- The Arkansas legislature passed a bill that could allow an employer to sue someone who gets access to his premises and uses images or sound recorded there — including electronic surveillance images or data — in a way that damages that company, according to Meat + Poultry.
- HB 1665 would also apply to people who use records obtained from a company or place a secret surveillance camera for documenting what goes on there in ways that damage that company.
- The Humane Society and other animal welfare groups urge Gov. Asa Hutchinson to veto the bill, citing it as a potentially devastating blow to transparency and animal welfare.
The bill seems to be aimed at penalizing people who gain unauthorized access to private property to record undercover audio and video, as has been done by several animal welfare activists to expose livestock mistreatment.
If it is signed, the bill would make efforts by animal welfare groups that want to ensure food companies play by the rules much harder. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 94% of Americans agree that animals raised for food deserve to live free from abuse and cruelty, and these groups help to ensure that. The bill also would allow the owner of a farm to sue employees who act as whistleblowers for documenting potential problems on the workplace.
Food companies — especially meat producers who must abide by strict rules — could change their practices if policing by animal welfare groups were prohibited. That could mean that companies that are more transparent with their practices could benefit as more consumers switch to more certified organic, mission-based food products.
But the bill doesn't just apply to agriculture. It would apply to any other business in the state, with the exceptions of state agencies, state colleges and universities, law enforcement officers' investigations, or health care businesses. Critics say this means surveillance of unsafe conditions at businesses like day care facilities would become criminalized under this bill.
Arkansas, which is home to several large livestock operations, would not be alone if the bill is passed. According to the ASPCA, seven states currently have "ag-gag" laws. Bills to enact similar laws have been defeated in more than 20 other states. Idaho had enacted a similar law, but a federal judge struck it down as unconstitutional in 2015.
Of course, the First Amendment protects a right to video record and photograph in public places, but federal courts have been divided on where those rights go once someone infringes on private property — even a business suspected of wrongdoing.