A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

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House Bill 683, providing for the offense interfering with agricultural operations, raises civil liberties and First Amendment concerns, particularly for photographers, bloggers and journalists.

The bill would prohibit a person from entering upon an agricultural operation or leaving a recording device on an agricultural operation in order to record sounds and images.   The bill would prohibit uploading or downloading such sounds and images from the internet.  The bill would prohibit undercover operations whereby a person would gain employment or use false pretenses to enter an agricultural operation in order to record sounds and images.  The bill would prohibit the recording of sounds and images while committing a criminal trespass on an agricultural operation.    Violations of the proposed bill would be a felony of the second or third degree.  The bill requires that the actor not have the consent of the owner of the agricultural operation or its agent.

The anti-fracking community has expressed concern about the bill.   I see the bill raising First Amendment concerns as it would prohibit the taking of photographs and the reporting activities of professional journalists, amateur journalists, bloggers and You Tube contributors.

The bill was introduced on February 12 and remains in the House Judiciary Committee.   Click for text of House Bill 683

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