Agriculture Security and Interference Bill

February 16, 2014

Last Tuesday the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee passed the Ag Security bill (S1337) on a 7-1 vote, and on Friday the full Senate passed the bill on a 23-10 vote. There are rapidly increasing instances of activists gaining entrance to Agricultural facilities under false pretenses to do harm to farming operations. Activists gain access by applying for a job, and then later, while working, either sabotage farming operations, take records unlawfully, or videotape without permission.

First and foremost, this is a private property rights issue. The right to acquire, possess and protect private property is a right that is guaranteed by Idaho Law. Every landowner has the right to control:

  • Who has access to his property
  • Who has access to his business records (sometimes records more valuable than actual property)
  • The filming or recording on his property without his authorization
  • The protection of his property and business operations from damage or injury
  • To have a reasonable expectation that potential employees will not misrepresent their intentions to falsely gain access to the property

S1337 speaks to each one of those reasonable expectations of employers. Those who would gain access to private property through misrepresentation would be guilty of a misdemeanor.

This is not a new approach. Private commercial research facilities have long benefited from protections from those gaining illegal access to their property. Our public agricultural research facilities also have protections in Idaho Code 18-7040. In fact, to cause harm to an Ag research facility is not a misdemeanor, rather a felony.

This bill is not just a response to videos on taken on a dairy. There is a much bigger issue. This is about the safety and security of farming operations and proprietary information from those who would do harm. S1337 will make those who would do harm to agriculture think twice about gaining illegal entrance to an Ag production facility to do harm.

Some claim this bill is an infringement on freedom of speech rights. The Idaho Office of the Attorney General has researched and believes any First Amendment challenge would fail. Brian Kane referenced the case of Chavez v. City of Oakland, which noted “the First Amendment does not guarantee the press a constitutional right of special access to information not available to the public generally. “ Kane went on to note that “this general rule as to government premises or information logically applies with even more force to a statute that protects private property and businesses from unauthorized entry, internal audio or video-taping—which presumably account for virtually all, if not all, agricultural production facilities subject to the proposed legislation”.

No one condones the mistreatment of animals. When abuse occurs, law enforcement and the Idaho Department of Agriculture should become involved through legally established procedures to immediately correct animal mistreatment. Those who abuse animals should be punished. Yet, no one should be able to gain access to private property by being dishonest about who they are and who they represent. Idahoans would never be happy with someone entering their home under false pretenses to videotape our homes. To do so is invasion of privacy and private property.

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