Question of the Week — Should States Be Able to Criminalize Whistleblowing on Farm Conditions?
This Monday a district court judge struck down Wyoming’s “ag-gag” laws as unconstitutional. Ag-gag laws criminalize photographing or videotaping any activity on a farm or agricultural operation without the owner’s consent. Wyoming’s two ag-gag laws prohibited individuals from entering onto land “for the purpose of collecting resource data” without the permission of the landowner, prohibited the use of any data collected in any research, and mandated the expungement of any such data. “Collecting resource data” was defined to include taking samples and photographs of the land and submitting or intending to submit the information to a state or federal agency. While the laws were categorized as trespass laws, the associated penalties – up to one year in prison and up to a $1000 fine – are far harsher than any other laws in the category. United States District Judge Scott Skavdahl found these laws violated the First Amendment.
Proponents of ag-gag laws claim they protect farmers from the dissemination of misleading video footage taken out of context to smear commonly accepted farming practices. Opponents argue that the laws censor animal rights abuses, create a chilling effect in reporting violations, and prohibit free speech.
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