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Senate Bill Would Restrict Sharing of Undercover Farm Footage

One state Senator wants to make it a crime for animal rights activists to share undercover footage of farms with anyone but law enforcement.

Sen. Mike Brubaker (R-Lancaster) said Wednesday he's drafting a measure to allow people to take photos and videos of farms without the consent of the owner and hold the records indefinitely.

Under the measure, he said such photos and videos could only be given to state and local police officers, as well as humane society enforcement officers.

"They may not post those on a website, on a Facebook page," Brubaker said. "They can't accuse that farmer of misconduct when the farmer themselves has not had the opportunity to plead their case, due process."

He said he wants farm animal cruelty to be investigated, but he doesn't want it to be tried in a court of public opinion with photos and videos taken on the sly and posted online.

"Overnight, that farm could lose 50 percent of their gross annual income," Brubaker said. "Who wants to buy a dozen eggs from a farmer that's being accused of not treating the hens in the hen house in a humane way?"

Similar measures have cropped up before, referred to by activists as "ag gag" bills. State Rep. Gary Haluska (D-Cambria) has such a bill in the House, and Brubaker introduced his own last year - it would have criminalized taken photos and video of an agricultural operation without the consent of the owner.

This time, he said, he's trying to strike a balance between flagging illegal animal abuse and protecting farm owners in a world increasingly unaware of the standards of modern agriculture.

But the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has said such a bill flies in the face of the First Amendment protection of free speech.

"There will be a prohibition of some sort of distribution of photos and videos, and that raises free expression problems under the First Amendment," said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the state's ACLU chapter. "Only in very narrow circumstances can the federal government prohibition distribution of photos and videos, and this is not one of those."