Should Photographing Chickens Be a Felony?
I stumbled across SB 1246 by chance rather than design, but I did find it a rather interesting bit of legislation. Trespassing onto a farm will result in a felony charge. Taking pictures at a farm without permission will also result in a felony charge. Lest you think I am making this up, I have pasted in the full text:
Florida Senate - 2011 SB 1246 By Senator Norman 12-01071A-11 20111246__ 1 A bill to be entitled 2 An act relating to farms; prohibiting a person from 3 entering onto a farm or photographing or video 4 recording a farm without the owner’s written consent; 5 providing a definition; providing penalties; providing 6 an effective date. 7 8 Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida: 9 10 Section 1. (1) A person who enters onto a farm or other 11 property where legitimate agriculture operations are being 12 conducted without the written consent of the owner, or an 13 authorized representative of the owner, commits a felony of the 14 first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, 15 or s. 775.084, Florida Statutes. 16 (2) A person who photographs, video records, or otherwise 17 produces images or pictorial records, digital or otherwise, at 18 or of a farm or other property where legitimate agriculture 19 operations are being conducted without the written consent of 20 the owner, or an authorized representative of the owner, commits 21 a felony of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 22 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084, Florida Statutes. 23 (3) As used in this section, the term “farm” includes any 24 tract of land cultivated for the purpose of agricultural 25 production, the raising and breeding of domestic animals, or the 26 storage of a commodity. 27 Section 2. This act shall take effect July 1, 2011.
I would think that part one is unnecessary. After all, existing trespassing laws should adequately cover people trespassing on farms and hence no new law should be needed to cover such situations. Unless, of course, owners of farms somehow deserve legal protections that the rest of us are not entitled to enjoy. Naturally, it can be argued that if trespassing on a construction site is a felony (as it is in Florida), then farm owners can help themselves to whatever justifications were given in support of that law. However, there does not seem to be a compelling reason to make trespassing on a farm such a serious offense.
The second part of the law, at first glance, seems rather bizarre. After all, a felony charge is supposed to be reserved for the serious offenses such as aggravated assault, rape, and murder. Snapping a photo of a chicken or taking a film of a cow without permission hardly seems to be a serious offense worthy of the sort of punishment that goes along with a felony. I hope that there will be clear warning markers placed all over such farms. After all, someone who was driving by a farm and decided to snap a photo of some cows and a sunset would be committing a felony and would probably have no idea of the terrible crime they were committing. After all, that is not the sort of thing that a sensible person would regard as criminal activity. I also hope that kids who go on farm tours will be warned prior to taking pictures. While the day might begin with smiles, it would surely end in tears when little Billy and Sally are dragged away by the Farm Police for snapping those pictures of a cow, pig or chicken without written permission.
It might be claimed that the law would be applied with “common sense”, so that the police would not arrest tourists who unknowingly snap a photo of cows at sunset or if someone happens to live by a farm and gets a part of the farm when taking a photo on her own land. However, the law is rather clear in its statement about what is a felony offense (namely any photos of farms) and it seems unreasonable to expect people to rely on the common sense of others as a barrier to felony charges. After all, the law itself seems to have been written by someone lacking such sense and if it passes, then that would be more evidence of a lack of common sense.
I suspect that the law is intended to intimidate and prosecute people who are concerned about conditions on farms. Folks who worry about whether animals are treated ethically or whether the conditions are sanitary or not would be the sort of folks likely to intrude on farms and take pictures. Not surprisingly, farm owners who have something to hide (like poor conditions) would be rather concerned about having such a legal club in place. As such, it might be suspected that Sb 1246 was created at the behest of folks who would rather not have the public know about what really goes on at their farms.
Naturally, it might be replied that farms have been subject to intrusions by animal rights activists and health activists and, as such, need special legal protection to keep these people from causing trouble. However, it would seem that the farm industry should have to deal with these problems like the rest of us, by getting restraining orders and so on against repeat offenders. Otherwise one might suspect that a special class of people are getting special privileges that are primarily intended to keep their operations from the light of day.
If the farms are acting well within the realm of humane treatment and sanitary operations, then they should have nothing to worry about. If people do trespass, they can be arrested for trespassing. If they take pictures of things, then there seem to be two main possibilities. The first is that the photos show that nothing is wrong. In this case, there hardly seems to be a compelling reason to make this a felony on par with murder. The second is that the photos show inhumane treatment, unsanitary conditions, or other such things. In that case, revealing such things should hardly be considered a felony offense but rather a public service on par with reporting a crime.
It might also be argued that there are farm secrets that the farm owners must protect. If there are such legitimate secrets, it would seem that those would also be protected under existing laws and hence this new law would not be needed.