Half a year ago, Wyoming passed one of the most controversial laws concerning photography ever (and agriculture for that matter) – the Data Trespass Law. The law has lots of legalese, but in a shell, the law makes it illegal to “…photograph or otherwise preserve information in any form from open land which is submitted or intended to be submitted to any agency of the state or federal government“.
Now Wyoming is being sued [pdf] by broad coalition of environmental, justice, and animal rights groups challenging the law to be unconstitutional.
Their main claim: This law has nothing to do with trespassing and everything to do with silencing whistle blowers and shutting up any environmentalists efforts before they even start. Here is the relevant portion of the lawsuit (bolding is mine):
Although the Data Censorship Statutes are clothed in the language of antitrespass statutes, they have little in common with Wyoming’s traditional trespass laws… The Data Censorship Statutes punish even authorized entry onto public land, if the entrant does not have specific permission to collect resource data. They penalize even mistaken entry onto private land, although Wyoming’s longstanding trespass statute does not. And they prohibit unauthorized entry onto public and private land to collect resource data only if that data is “submitted or intended to be submitted” to a government agency. Thus, the Data Censorship Statutes do not punish individuals for unauthorized entry per se. They instead single out for punishment citizens who enter land without specific authorization to collect resource data, where the citizens intend to communicate that data to government authorities, or the data are otherwise submitted to those authorities
Leslie Brueckner, a senior attorney at Public Justice explained thinkprogress why this law is harmful:
These Wyoming laws are designed to stop whistleblowers from being able to enforce the environmental laws in Wyoming. 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
Brueckner’s estimates that the Trespass law and its time of submission is not random. He suggests that it is made so WPP (a nonprofit conservation organization) who collect data about polluted streams in Wyoming can be silenced via lawsuits.
A similar (but animal-protection oriented) law was recently declared unconstitutional in Idaho which give this lawsuit some back-wind. We will update as the story evolves.