Friday, October 30, 2015

Lawsuit Claims Wyoming’s Data Trespass Law Protects Violators of Environmental Laws

The state of Wyoming is being sued over its new Data Trespass Law, with the plaintiffs claiming it violates the First and Fourteenth amendments to the Constitution. The law, passed earlier this year, prohibits gathering of data—including photographs—on “open land” without statutory authorization or explicit permission that is submitted or intended to be submitted to a government agency. The “open land” provision includes anything that’s not in a city, town or subdivision. Thus, it makes it technically illegal to take a photo for submission to a state-owned magazine. The law’s authors aren’t worried about that, of course. They wrote it to prevent environmental groups from taking soil and water samples that might prove that ranchers are allowing their cattle to pollute streams. “These Wyoming laws are designed to stop whistleblowers from being able to enforce the environmental laws in Wyoming,” Leslie Brueckner, a senior attorney at Public Justice, a public interest law firm that has challenged ag-gag laws in other states, told ThinkProgress. “Like the classic ag-gag statutes that we’re challenging in Idaho, this law directly infringes on the ability of whistleblowers and other advocates to speak freely under the First Amendment and also to expose wrongdoing in the agriculture industry.” The claims for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment come in because it singles out a particular group—environmentalists trying to protect Wyoming’s lands. The suit is being brought by the National Press Photographers Association; Western Watersheds Project, which has been criticized for its controversial water-sampling efforts aimed at showing cattle contaminate streams with E. coli; the Natural Resources Defense Council; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals; and Center for Food Safety.   That the law prohibits data gathering on public lands makes it even more insidious...more

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