Politics Unusual: USDA's animal welfare data purge

For years, records about animal welfare at places like pet shops, zoos, dog breeders and research labs was accessible for anyone to see online. But earlier this month the United States Department of Agriculture scrapped the data from its website.

Brian Hackett is the New Jersey state director for the Humane Society of the United States, which has already taken the first step towards filing a lawsuit to get the records restored to the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, website. New Jersey is among seven states that prohibit the purchase of animals from commercial breeders or puppy mills that have violations. Hackett says without the public records, those laws are essentially gutted.

The USDA said the decision to remove the records has been in the works since last year. The agency said it is an effort to balance the need for transparency with the need for personal privacy protection. The USDA is also currently in the midst of a lawsuit because of information that was posted on the site.

Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and 17 other senators have sent a letter to the USDA demanding the records be restored. He is also cosponsoring a bill to better safeguard federal data in general. He said he doesn't accept the lawsuit as the reason to "chill public information" and said he has serious concerns the administration taking down public information.

In the meantime, writer and anthologist Russ Kick has posted thousands of the deleted records to his website the Memory Hole. Kick said he will post any additional records that come his way.

The data purge has also inspired a social media campaign with thousands tweeting under the hashtag #nousdablackout with pictures of their pets.