INDIANAPOLIS – Agricultural and industrial businesses tired of embarrassing – and sometimes damaging – photos and videos of their operations want legislative protection.
And a Senate panel voted 7-2 Tuesday to give it to them, making it a crime to take such photos and videos on private property without permission of the owner.
Proponents called Senate Bill 373 a boon for private-property rights while opponents said it erodes whistleblower protections.
Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, said he offered the bill to get at “vigilantes” who are getting into the private facilities with the sole intent of taking these types of photos or videos. He said many of them are animal activists looking for evidence of possible animal abuse.
Examples given during the hearing included people who take tours of the facility or who even work at the businesses for several weeks to obtain photos and videos of questionable activities. The documentation is often posted online and sometimes causes harm to the business.
“These people are trespassers,” said Ed Roberts of the Indiana Manufacturers Association. “They are doing something they are not supposed to be doing.”
The bill does not affect photos or videos taken while on public property.
Opponents, though, pointed to times in history when similar documentation led to improvements in the meat industry, rules about child labor laws and other examples.
Erin Huang, state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said taking away whistleblower protections related to the country’s food supply is dangerous. She also said animal abuse has been uncovered and prosecuted in other states with similar photos and videos.
She also noted a number of criminal charges that could already apply, such as trespassing or fraud, as well as civil remedies through libel or defamation lawsuits.
Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, said he is somewhat torn on the bill and wants to see if an amendment can limit its scope. For instance, it would not be illegal to take the photos or video if the evidence of illegality is turned over to a government oversight agency, law enforcement or possibly the media.
But it still could not be posted or distributed publicly.
And there also were concerns that journalists might not be able to conduct undercover investigations without running afoul of the law.
Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, said the bill reminded him of a visit to Communist Romania where he wasn’t allowed to take photos.
“This makes the law a little more messy. We already have laws to deal with this issue. We don’t need another one,” he said.
The bill now moves to the full Senate.