Federal Judge Approves Activists’ Undercover Cameras, Cites First Amendment
An Idaho federal judge ruled on Monday in favor of undercover citizen journalists who used hidden cameras to film animal abuse and malfeasant factory farm practices. The secret recordings are protected under the First Amendment, the judge found, according to the Los Angeles Times.
U.S. Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill of the District of Idaho found that an Idaho state law unfairly targeted animals rights activists who might be critical of the agricultural industry.
The ruling comes as a different federal judge tried to ban anti-abortion activists from releasing undercover videos of Planned Parenthood officials talking about harvesting the organs of aborted unborn children.
Judge Winmill wrote that the intent of the Idaho law was “to protect industrial animal agriculture by silencing its critics.” In his ruling, he noted such a bill would have punished the famous Upton Sinclair. Sinclair exposed the dangerous practices of the meat-packing industry in his expose, “The Jungle.”
Idaho Gov. C.L. Otter signed the law into effect in February 2014. State lawmakers crafted the legislation in response to an undercover video by the group “Mercy for Animals.” The video showed agricultural workers abusing and beating dairy cows.
Lawmakers equated “Mercy for Animals” action’s as “farm terrorism.”
The state legislature’s bill punished the use of false identity to gain access to agricultural facilities as well as the use of secret recordings. Punishments ranged from a year of jail time to potentially more damages via fines and other other restraints.
This led to widespread outcry from animal rights activists, journalists and civil liberty advocates filing suit concerned about freedom of speech and press.
“The effect of the statute will be to suppress speech by undercover investigators and whistleblowers concerning topics of great public importance: the safety of the public food supply, the safety of agricultural workers, the treatment and health of farm animals, and the impact of business activities on the environment,” Winmill wrote.
Last week, a federal judge ruled against the Center for Medical Progress and their recent Planned Parenthood videos. (RELATED: Federal Judge Who Banned Planned Parenthood Video Releases Once Raised $230,000 For Obama)
The Center for Medical Progress used the same tactics, secret recording and misrepresentation of identity as the group “Mercy for Animals” did.
California Judge William Orrick issued a restraining order Friday, July 31, and extended it Monday because the Center For Medical Progress did not have consent to secretly record and report their findings.
California Sen. Barbara Boxer likened the group behind the videos to right wing “extremists”. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the videos were “released in a fraudulent way.”
The Center For Medical Progress ignored the injunctions and have continued to release their findings.