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Animal cruelty whistleblowers targeted by chilling state laws

Animal cruelty whistleblowers targeted by chilling state laws

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Animal rights activists are at risk of losing their right to covertly film the abuse of farm animals in several states, reports The New York Times. Some state legislatures have proposed or enacted bills that make it illegal to videotape livestock farms, while others have sought to force activists to disclose their ties to animal rights groups when applying for a job. The American Legislative Exchange Council, a business advocacy group, has drafted many model bills on the matter, including one, The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act, that would place activists who enter "an animal or research facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera" with a view to "defame the facility or its owner" onto a "terrorist registry." Iowa, Utah and Missouri have already passed bills that restrict filming, while Indiana and Tennessee are thought to be gearing up for a vote on the matter.

While the "terrorist registry" idea is an extreme example that may never become a reality, even small changes to the law can make activists' and whistleblowers' attempts to curtail animal cruelty more difficult. Some bills allow for covert filming, but require evidence to be handed to the authorities within 24 - 48 hours. According to Matt Dominguez, the Public Policy Manager for Farm Animal Protection at The Humane Society of the United States, for an investigation to be successful it needs to document a pattern of abuse, provide enough evidence to spark the government into investigating the matter, and prove whether or not farm managers are complicit in the abuse. Achieving all this in a couple of days would be extremely difficult — most investigations span several months.

Dominguez points to a past investigation to highlight the importance of covert filming. Back in 2011, The Humane Society provided video evidence of horses being burned with chemicals to law enforcement. Federal prosecutors had already filed charges by the time the video was made public, and the parties involved pled guilty a week later. According to the prosectors, the Humane Society's evidence was "instrumental to the case."