Sunday, May 17, 2015

“If you see something, say something…to a government agency and we’ll put you in jail”

In other threats-to-free-speech news, Wyoming’s new environmental/ag gag law:
[T]he new law makes it a crime to gather data about the condition of the environment across most of the state if you plan to share that data with the state or federal government.

The Clean Water Act and other federal environmental laws recognize that government officials lack the resources and sometimes the political will to address every environmental problem. Ordinary citizens therefore play an integral role in carrying out these laws. The statutes authorize citizens to bring lawsuits against polluters and recalcitrant government agencies, and citizen scientists have long played an important role in gathering information to support better regulations.

The Wyoming law transforms a good Samaritan who volunteers her time to monitor our shared environment into a criminal. Idaho and Utah, as well as other states, have also enacted laws designed to conceal information that could damage their agricultural industries—laws currently being challenged in federal court. But Wyoming is the first state to enact a law so expansive that it criminalizes taking a picture on public land.

The new law is of breathtaking scope. It makes it a crime to “collect resource data” from any “open land,” meaning any land outside of a city or town, whether it’s federal, state, or privately owned. The statute defines the word collect as any method to “preserve information in any form,” including taking a “photograph” so long as the person gathering that information intends to submit it to a federal or state agency. In other words, if you discover an environmental disaster in Wyoming, even one that poses an imminent threat to public health, you’re obliged, according to this law, to keep it to yourself.

Anyone with a passing familiarity with our Constitution will recognize that the Wyoming law is unconstitutional. It runs afoul of the supremacy clause because it interferes with the purposes of federal environmental statutes by making it impossible for citizens to collect the information necessary to bring an enforcement lawsuit. The Wyoming law also violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech because it singles out speech about natural resources for burdensome regulation and makes it a crime to engage in a variety of expressive and artistic activities. And finally, it specifically criminalizes public engagement with federal and state agencies and therefore violates another right guaranteed by the First Amendment: the right to petition the government.

By enacting this law, the Wyoming legislature has expressed its disdain for the freedoms protected by the First Amendment and the environmental protections enshrined in federal statutes. Today, environmentally conscious citizens face a stark choice: They can abandon efforts to protect the lands they love or face potential criminal charges. [links removed]
Another take.

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