Saferproducts.gov is a newly created, federally mandated online database that is run by the CSPC. A highly anticipated brainchild of the CPSIA (Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act), saferproducts.gov was designed to streamline and solidify the role of government in promoting a heightened level of consumer safety. Since its birth in March of 2012, the website has successfully collected, organized, and published 11,000 consumer reports on various manufacturers without incident. However, this week they were the recipient of a significant and highly embarrassing judicial slap down.
In his recently released opinion of Company Doe v. Inez Tenenbaum et al., Judge Alexander Williams ruled that saferproducts.gov was not only âmaterially misleading,â in its handling of their report on the mystery plaintiff, but âarbitrary and capricious.â
The trouble started earlier this year when the CSPC received a report on one of Company Doeâs products that called the safety of the product into serious question.Â Company Doe was made aware of said report, as is required by saferproducts.gov policy, and given the chance to contest it, which they did. They even went so far as to provide medical evidence challenging the legitimacy of the report; all for naught. The report was published (revised on four separate occasions but still published) on the website for all inquiring consumers to see.
Which, to be fair, was exactly what it was made for. According to an article by Safety Research and Strategies Inc., the CSPC database was explicitly designed to maintain the integrity of consumer concerns; it was the only entity exempt from Section 6B of the CPSIA, which gave manufacturers veto power over the negative content the CSPC could put out about them. In fact, before publishing any information the CSPC had to obtain the manufacturerâs prior approval.
But saferproducts.gov is supposed to work differently. Their terms and conditions give manufacturers the opportunity to rebut potentially damaging information; if that information is provided, and proves a report wrong in part or sum, the report is not supposed to be posted.
Despite multiple appeals from consumer advocacy groups to publish Company Doeâs identity, Judge Williams left the companyâs information and identifying details under seal. Citing Company Doeâs First Amendment right to a government redress of its grievances, Williams remained firm in his statement that revealing the Companyâs identity would violate âfundamental notions of fairness.â Public Citizen, for their part, stated that the courtâs decision to close the lid on the details of the case was a violation of the First Amendment rights of consumers. The public, said Public Citizen Attorney Scott Michelman, has a âstrong right to learn who is involvedâ as well as the âfactual basisâ for the courtâs decision.
Saferproducts.gov, in accordance with the ruling, took down the report. On their website is a pledge of solidarity to keep up their cause, or federally mandated duty, and a promise to keep providing information to better educate and protect consumers; with a publishing average of roughly forty five reports a day, it shouldnât be too hard to proceed with caution.