Project Calf encouraged activists to use public footpaths in order to obtain footage of cows and separation pens.
The Government’s data protection watchdog is investigating after the details of every dairy farm in England and Wales were exposed by a vegan group – but farmers were warned they could have little legal chance of fighting back.
Project Calf pulled together the exact locations of more than 9,000 dairy farms on Google maps, advising its followers to ‘expose the atrocities of the dairy industry through citizen journalism, peaceful protesting and outreach’.
It encouraged activists to use public footpaths in order to obtain footage of cows and separation pens.
The Information Commissioner’s Office has launched an investigation, but experts said farmers would struggle to remove their details from the map as the data was previously available in the public domain.
Data can, however, be removed from the Google maps software – but it would only protect farmers from a similar incident in the future.
The Food Standards Agency, which was the alleged source of the leaked data, said: “All [of] our open data has been through a process of assessing suitability for publication, including implications of data protection legislation, and we are undertaking a further risk assessment of the impact of publishing this data.”
Tom Forster of Farmers and Mercantile Insurance Brokers said it was important for farmers to recognise when unwanted visitors had ‘overstepped the mark’, including making an official complaint to the police for offences such as aggravated trespass, harassment and breach of the peace.
Affected farmers have already launched an online petition to call on the Government to review and strengthen trespass laws following fears Project Calf would also boost the likelihood of burglaries and crime.
The campaign hit national headlines this week and consumers flooded to social media to suggest the exposure ‘should be punishable by law’.
Others said they would instead use the map as a way to find their nearest source of fresh milk and cheese.
Vice-chairman of the NFU dairy board, Paul Tompkins, said dairy farmers were ‘proudly open and transparent’ about how they cared for their cows and Project Calf would only encourage the industry to ‘showcase what we do best’.
Beef farmer Joe Stanley added: “The whole concept is abhorrent.
“It is the way [activists] say it, they do this school-yard taunting. For example they would say something like ‘why would a farmer be upset by it if they have done nothing wrong?’
“With anything like this it is the extreme vulnerability that so many farmers feel.”
Project Calf said the organisation was using the campaign as a platform to combat what it called a wide-ranging ‘romanticised view of the countryside’.
Anyone with concerns about how their data is being handled should write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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