Originally published May 22 2015
Wyoming trashes the First Amendment, criminalizes taking pictures of pollution, collecting 'resource data' for government
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) A new piece of legislation signed into law in March in the remote state of Wyoming essentially criminalizes the act of taking scenic photographs if authorities believe you are trespassing. Some critics of the law say it is really intended to stop people from collecting visual evidence of large polluters and then passing the images on as "evidence" to watchdog groups.
According to language in the Data Trespass measure, the law appears to be aimed at enhancing current legal restrictions against generalized trespass for the express purpose of prohibiting anyone from the unauthorized collection of "resource data."
That, reports MintPress News, could include an act as simple as taking a picture virtually anywhere in the state. The law's broad language could have wider implications as well, and it might even be aimed at preventing whistleblowers from outing other criminal activity, such as violations of the Clean Water Act.
A more accurate name would be "The Anti-environmental Whistleblower Act"The language of the law states that "to collect" means to "take a sample of material, acquire, gather, 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." Penalties for violations include fines up to $5,000 and/or a year in jail.
As MintPress News noted, "With such a sweeping definition, proving the intention to pass along such evidence might not be so difficult, and could potentially include taking a picture of, say, Yellowstone." Moreover, the language makes it sound as though the state of Wyoming has something to hide.
The news site went on to to note that one key difference in the new law is that unlike traditional criminal trespassing, people do not have to knowingly wander onto land that is restricted, which means there is no consideration for anyone who simply made an honest mistake.
Regarding anyone who wants to risk jail and a fine in order to do the right thing and videotape or photograph polluting or environmental violations, the law has that covered, too: any visual data gathered will not be admissible, and the whistleblowing effort will therefore have been all for naught.
As MintPress News further reported:
A key element of the Clean Water Act is reliance on public citizens to spot violations, but this trespass law, and similar legislation in other states including Idaho and Utah, renders citizen science helpless, even in the event of imminent threat to public health. What these laws essentially accomplish is putting rights of their state agricultural industries above the rights of citizens not to have our shared land fouled with pollutants. Rather than addressing the root of the issue, the law shows a preference for sweeping the problem under the rug.
Law took effect after potential evidence of water damage foundNot coincidentally, the law was passed after activists with the Western Watershed Project heavily sampled waterways that were under control of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which is part of the Department of the Interior.
The activists discovered that the waterways were heavily tainted with E. coli bacteria, something that is very dangerous to human beings. Cattle ranchers, whose livestock is likely responsible for the contamination, sued the group for trespassing on the assumption that they had to cross into private land in order to reach publicly held property to get their samples.
If they had been found to be in violation of the Clean Water Act, ranchers could have faced tighter grazing restrictions. However, under the new Data Trespass bill, the Western Watershed Project activists (and others) will now be subject to criminal prosecution if they cross land to obtain evidence of potential environmental wrongdoing.
"We are deeply concerned that this poorly written and overly vague bill will prevent concerned citizens and students from undertaking valuable research projects on public lands, out of fear of accidentally running afoul of the new law (the scope of which no one clearly understands) and being criminally and civilly prosecuted," said Connie Wilbert, a spokeswoman for the Wyoming chapter of the Sierra Club, in a statement to the Think Progress web site. "There is no need for this new bill, and we can only conclude that it is an attempt by private landowners to scare people away from valid research efforts on public land."
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