A new Wyoming law expands on the “ag-gag” trend of criminalizing whistleblowers in a new way: making it illegal for citizens to gather data about environmental pollution.
Wyoming’s Senate Bill 12, or the “Data Trespassing Bill” as it’s being called, criminalizes the collection of “resource data.”
It defines collection as “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.”
Yes, you read that correctly. This law is explicitly targeting those who gather evidence from open land of corporate pollution for the purpose of turning that evidence over to the government.
The law goes on to say that any evidence gathered without the property owner’s written or verbal permission will not be admissible as evidence in any civil, criminal or administrative proceeding.
The Wyoming bill came with heavy support from cattle ranchers, who are involved in a lawsuit against the Western Watershed Project. Ranchers say the environmentalists improperly collected water samples, which showed elevated E. coli levels.
The lawsuit is pending, but regardless of how it turns out, collecting data on public lands is now illegal in the state.
“This is an effort to make it illegal for citizens to gather truthful information about all the people using natural resources,” Wyoming attorney Justin Pidot told VICE News. “It has a significant chilling effect on citizens who want to gather information about public land.”
I talked to VICE about how this fits into the broader ag-gag trend:
Will Potter, an investigative journalist who has written extensively on government attempts to clamp down on environmentalists, told VICE News the Wyoming bill had the potential to be enforced as broadly as Pidot and Wilbert fear because the wording gave room for a myriad of interpretations.“Over and over again I’ve seen promises by politicians that legislation is not going to be used in X, Y, or Z way but it doesn’t play out that way,” Potter warned. “Once you put laws like this on the books they can be pushed to their limits.”
North Carolina recently passed a sweeping ag-gag law as well, which was opposed by AARP, veterans, animal welfare advocates, and domestic violence groups.
These laws are a blatant attempt by corporations to shut down any attempt to investigate their activities and hold them accountable.
This Wyoming law, just like ag-gag laws, ensure that evidence collected can’t be used in court. Even if the evidence shows pollution that is putting public health at risk.