Over two years ago, we wrote about an absolutely insane proposal in Florida that sought to make it a felony to photograph farms
without permission. The bill tried to position it as "protecting farm intellectual property," but everyone knew the real reason: farmers were upset about animal rights activists photographing and videotaping animal cruelty and revealing it to the world. We hadn't heard much more about that until just recently. A month and a half ago, On the Media
had a segment about how these kinds of bills were showing up in more states
, and now the NY Times has done a big article on how these "ag-gag" laws are being pushed
by lobbyists heavily influenced by big farm groups.
It appears that the positioning of these bills has moved away from "protecting farmer IP" and over to claiming that animal rights activists are involved in terrorism
for exposing animal cruelty. Now, we certainly believe that some animal rights groups go way overboard
in their campaigns, though they often just make themselves look silly when they do so. But these laws just seem crazy, and a clear restriction on First Amendment rights.
But a dozen or so state legislatures have had a different reaction: They proposed or enacted bills that would make it illegal to covertly videotape livestock farms, or apply for a job at one without disclosing ties to animal rights groups. They have also drafted measures to require such videos to be given to the authorities almost immediately, which activists say would thwart any meaningful undercover investigation of large factory farms.
ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), a group famous for writing legislation for members of Congress, has a "draft bill" along these lines, which argues that the effort is to prevent attempts to use images and video to "defame the facility or its owner." That's insulting. First off, we already have defamation laws. If farm owners are defamed, let them use those laws. Second, truth is an absolute defense to defamation, and if they're taking a picture that accurately represents what's going on, it's difficult to see how that could, in any way, be any form of defamation. Third, and most importantly, just because one might
use some tactic to defame someone (even if it's highly unlikely) that's no excuse, at all, for seeking to ban the activity entirely.
In the end, it's legal efforts like this that make people especially cynical about the political process. It's pretty clear that there's no good
reason for such laws. Rather, the entire purpose is to protect some farmers who don't want their practices exposed.