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Senate Bill Targets Undercover Video Recordings

A bill, which has passed out of a Senate committee, would make it illegal to take photographs or video in a private businesses without the owners’ permission.

cows

Photo: Socially Responsible Agriculture Project (flickr)

Cows herd together at a dairy operation.

An amendment added to the bill in committee specifies the law only applies if the person taking the video or photos does so with intent to defame the proprietor.

The bill is aimed at protecting businesses from harmful allegations made by so-called “video vigilantes” who tour or get jobs at businesses to get behind-the-scenes access.

Indiana agricultural lobbying groups back the bill as a protection against activists they say infiltrate their operations. Indiana Manufacturers Association Vice President Ed Roberts says he believes the bill would clear up both misconceptions and wrongdoing.

“Oh there might be a cow that’s being fed less than I think they should be fed or in a way different than I think they should be fed,” Roberts says. “Accordingly, I get to trespass. I get to take pictures of things that I don’t have permission to take pictures of, and I get to use those pictures if possible to defame the person who owns the cow. All that’s wrong.”

But opponents worry about violating free speech protections. Indiana University journalism professor Jim Kelly says the bill is not necessary, in part because trespassing laws are already in place.

“It seems to me that the current legislation is driven primarily by the discomfort that exposés have caused the livestock and food industries,” Kelly says. “There are already remedies in place for employees or visitors that violate the contract obligations that they enter into when they go onto private property.”

Bill supporters say the bill strengthens protections offered by federal inspectors who are already tasked with monitoring what the “video vigilantes” would want to capture on film.

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