General Assembly: Senate Bill 373 could have wide-reaching effects
By Matt Mikus firstname.lastname@example.org March 3, 2013 10:40PM
Matt Mikus, Post-Tribune reporter. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 5, 2013 6:18AM
Agriculture and industry may soon have a higher level of protection, if legislation that passed the Indiana Senate can make it through the legislative process.
Senate Bill 373 would make it a criminal offense to take a photo or make a video of an agricultural or industrial property and distribute it without permission, with “intent to defame or ... harm the business relationship” with its customers.
But by making it a criminal action to take a photograph within the operations of a private company, the bill could have overreaching implications on the freedoms of speech and press, and could silence workers who want to improve their working conditions.
Supporters contend that the bill is designed to protect property rights, since the law states a person cannot enter the property and document conditions without the consent of the owner. Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, said before the vote that not passing the bill would be “a civil disobedience.”
“We don’t need to have people taking the law into their own hands,” Holdman said last Tuesday.
Funny that a democracy is a government created by the people who, through elected representatives, determine the laws that govern their society.
The law already covers trespassing, which means the bill is designed to protect industry practices that could be judged as immoral or inhumane.
“The Supreme Court has ruled in several cases that the fact that something may embarrass someone or change their behavior or business practice,” said Steve Key, executive director and general counsel of Hoosier State Press Association, “it’s still protected under the First Amendment.”
And the First Amendment has its limits, where people or companies can be protected from defamation or libel if false information is distributed.
The Senate bill was altered to allow a venue for whistleblowers — if the offense is reported to police or a state regulating agency within 48 hours.
But sometimes regulating agencies don’t follow through, said Kim Ferraro of the Hoosier Environmental Council.
“I can speak from personal knowledge with factory farms,” Ferraro said. “I know of instances where people took pictures of a manure spilling, a clear violation of the law. They submitted them to IDEM, and there’s no penalty to the violator.”
Inaction can stem from lack of resources or too lax a relationship between regulators and the industry. If no one listens, the next step for a whistleblower would be to raise public awareness — post it online, print it in the paper, broadcast it on television — whatever necessary to increase the pressure.
Photographs can also lead to laws that shape our society, like the work of Lewis Hine in the early 1900s that led to the first child labor laws. At the time, having children work in factories or mines was not only common but legal. Hine’s images led to new laws limiting the age and number of hours children could work.
Similar examples can be drawn from the civil rights movement, the Vietnam war and various environmental damages from floating trash to dumped sludge. Photos and video can bring the unpleasant truth to light.
Should Senate Bill 373 pass, it would be a criminal for concerned citizens to show offending agricultural or industrial images to their senator or representative.
“It seems like the intent is, ‘we don’t want these photos to be taken,’ ” Key said, “even though good public policy might call for a reason for these photos or videos to be disseminated.”
Even with the whistle blowing protection, it could be enough to discourage any action.
“The fact that it’s a criminal activity — that’ll have a chilling effect,” Ferraro said.