Groups Say Wyoming Stepped On First Amendment Rights With Data Collection Law

Sep 29, 2015

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Several organizations have taken Wyoming to court over a law passed last year that made it a criminal offense to cross private property to collect data on public lands. One group that recently joined the lawsuit is the National Press Photographers Association.  The group's attorney, Alicia Calzada, says the new law violates the right to petition by criminalizing the act of collecting data to distribute to the public or to the government. She says that’s something journalists do regularly.

“It’s not uncommon for states to try to criminalize activities that involve reporting and raising awareness of issues related to food safety and animal welfare and that kind of thing. These are called ag gag laws.”

Calzada says lawmakers weren’t transparent with citizens about the real reasons for passing the statute when they said it protected private property rights.

“The fact that there are already laws dealing with trespass just goes to show that this law was not really meant to address trespass,” she says. “It was meant to address the kind of activity that the landowners have decided they don’t like, informing the government when there’s something wrong.”

The real goal, she says, was to help landowners keep researchers from obtaining data about grazing pollution and other environmental damage. Calzada says, right now, there are eight laws around the country similar to Wyoming’s.