Undercover investigations by animal advocates are an increasingly important tool in exposing the disturbing realities of factory farming. However, a number of states have begun to consider legislation aimed squarely at the messenger rather than the broken system. These bills, dubbed “ag-gag” bills, would criminalize any recording of a farm’s operations taken without the express consent of the farm’s owner. Of course, most states already have laws against trespass, invasion of privacy, and defamation to protect individuals against unlawful activities. Ag-gag legislation attempts to overreach those protections by criminalizing activities that would be lawful in most any other setting.
In 2011, ag-gag measures were introduced but not passed in Florida, Iowa and Minnesota. In 2012, a number of states again introduced bills that would criminalize on-farm photography, including Iowa, Minnesota, New York, Indiana and Nebraska. A similar bill introduced in Florida has already died in the legislature. This legislation is certainly alarming: they would criminalize legitimate documentation of animal abuse, food safety violations, occupational health and safety violations, or any on-farm filming for almost any other reason. Should any of the bills pass, they would still face serious constitutional hurdles: the targeted conduct may well be protected by the First Amendment.