A photograph like the one above, even if taken from a public road, could land you in jail if one Florida lawmaker get his way. Florida’s Senator Norman introduced a bill in the state legislature this spring to make it a felony to shoot photos or video of “a farm or other property where legitimate agriculture operations are being conducted without the written consent of the owner.”
Senator Norman has dismissed the outcry of photographers that such a law violates Constitutional rights to free expression and admits that his target isn’t tourists capturing iconic images of farms and sunsets but animal rights activists from PETA or other groups using photography to expose inhumane and unsanitary practices at factory farms.
The cliche “a picture is worth a thousand words” wouldn’t exist if images weren’t powerful. Social movements throughout the 20th century have used images to catalyze support for their campaigns. I bet you can think of three right now (images from Vietnam, the Tiananmen Square massacre, and the U.S. Civil Rights movement come immediately to my mind).
Judy Dalglish, executive director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told a Florida Tribune reporter that the bill “is just flat-out unconstitutional not to mention stupid,” she said. According to Daglish, photography from a public road or even an airplane over private property is legal and that “there are laws already to prosecute trespassing onto property without permission. And if someone poses as a farm employee to shoot undercover video, they can be fired and possibly sued,” reports the Tribune.
But About.com’s photography editor reflects the concerns of many in the profession that if this bill should become law “photographers could still be arrested and charged until such a time as someone made a successful challenge in federal court.”
When I worked for Food & Water Watch, one of my tasks was to find images for their written materials and finding pictures of the outrageous treatment of animals on factory farms is tough. We usually had to settle for less compelling (but legally acquired) images shot from the side of the road like the one above.
The activists willing to trespass to capture truly dramatic photographs of the suffering of hogs, cows and chickens know the risks. Senator Nelson’s bill is targeted at them, raising the stakes for activism and possibly protecting factory farms from public ire by keeping their inhumane practices under cover.
Correction: I initially typed Nelson when I meant Norman. Senator Bill Nelson is a U.S. Senator from Florida. Senator Jim Norman is a state senator from Florida’s 12th district.
Cattle feedlot photo by flickr user friendsoffamilyfarmers / used by Creative Commons license.