Senate OKs bill to stop undercover video at farms, plants

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The Indiana Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would make it illegal to take unauthorized pictures or video of operations at a manufacturing or farming business.

Senate Bill 373 makes the violation a Class A infraction, similar to a speeding ticket. The second violation would net the offender a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.

But the bill includes some exceptions, including people who have a “good faith belief” that they were recording evidence of illegal activity — as long as the person provides the recording or photograph to law enforcement within 48 hours of taking it and doesn't distribute it to any person other than law enforcement and regulatory agencies.

The law also would protect employees who turn in evidence of illegal activity from employer retaliation through whistleblower protection laws.

Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, said he authored the bill to stop vigilantes from taking the law into their own hands and to protect personal property rights.

“We have law enforcement and regulatory agencies to handle those kinds of situations,” he said. “We don’t need a vigilante group out there with cameras and video recorders taking pictures of things we just don’t like.”

Opponents of the bill say it infringes on freedom of the press granted by the First Amendment because journalists often use video or photos to report wrongdoing or safety violations at private businesses when there is no other way.

Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden, said the bill “seriously jeopardizes free press.”

“We can’t penalize a mainstay of our democracy,” she said. “We’re smashing a fly with a sledgehammer.”

Steve Key, director of the Hoosier State Press Association, said SB 373 is bad public policy.

“This is big government taking over what the responsibilities of citizens are to defend themselves,” he said.

He said the bill could keep people from bringing to light cases of abuse and other criminal activity.

Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, said there are already laws in place to protect against trespassing, defamation and libel that would apply when somebody with malicious intentions makes recordings or videos at a private business.

“It doesn’t function, it doesn’t do what the author intended and it doesn’t protect First Amendment rights,” he said of the bill. “It seems it would be very difficult to both prosecute and defend.”

Holdman said not passing the bill would be a civil disobedience.

“This is about first amendment rights, but it’s primarily about your private property rights,” he said. “We have provided a number of good faith defenses and exemptions.”

The bill passed 30-20 and moves to the House for consideration.

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