from the ag-gag-embiggened dept
Techdirt has written several times about so-called "ag-gag" laws, which have the strange effect of making it illegal for members of the public to expose animal abuse on farms. Slate has a fascinating report about how Wyoming is bringing in its own kind of ag-gag law that is so wide in its reach that it could make taking photos in Yellowstone illegal:
photos are a type of data, and the new law makes it a crime to gather data about the condition of the environment across most of the state if you plan to share that data with the state or federal government.
The specificity of that restriction sounds absurd. Why on earth would anyone want to prevent environmental data being gathered? Here's why:
The state wants to conceal the fact that many of its streams are contaminated by E. coli bacteria, strains of which can cause serious health problems, even death.
The reason the state is trying to do that is because the E. coli in question comes from cows, and cows have clout in Wyoming:
Acknowledging that fact could result in rules requiring ranchers who graze their cows on public lands to better manage their herds. The ranching community in Wyoming wields considerable political power and has no interest in such obligations, so the state is trying to stop the flow of information rather than forthrightly address the problem.
The law is framed broadly: it makes it a crime to "preserve information in any form" about "open land" if there is any intention to submit it to a federal or state agency. That means that if you discovered a major environmental disaster in Wyoming, no matter how life-threatening, you had better keep information about it to yourself. As the Slate post points out:
By enacting this law, the Wyoming legislature has expressed its disdain for the freedoms protected by the First Amendment and the environmental protections enshrined in federal statutes. Today, environmentally conscious citizens face a stark choice: They can abandon efforts to protect the lands they love or face potential criminal charges.
Now that's what I call an ag-gag law.