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A federal judge in Idaho has struck down a state law that bans undercover filming at farm operations. Idaho's dairy industry persuaded lawmakers to pass the ban after an animal rights group secretly videotaped workers at a large dairy farm beating and kicking cows. The judge says such undercover investigations are protected by the First Amendment. NPR's Dan Charles reports.
DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: For people who are fighting against the mistreatment of animals that are raised for food, the hidden video camera has become the weapon of choice. Camera-carrying activists apply for jobs at dairy farms, chicken houses, cattle feedlots.
MATT RICE: They use their real names, their real Social Security numbers, and then they go to work every day wired with hidden cameras and document the conditions that they see.
CHARLES: Matt Rice is director of investigations for the group Mercy for Animals.
RICE: These animals have been moved inside, behind closed doors, out of sight and out of mind of most Americans. But by doing these undercover investigations, we can act as the eyes and ears for the American public.
CHARLES: His group, Mercy for Animals, and other animal rights advocates have released undercover video of some of the most unappetizing parts of American agriculture.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Filth, overcrowding, disease, suffering.
CHARLES: Some videos have led to criminal charges being filed against farm employees. In several states, farm groups have fought back by pushing for laws that ban this sort of undercover filming. Idaho passed such a law in 2014. It makes it illegal for anyone to make video or audio records on a farm without the owner's consent or to look for a job on a farm with the intent of causing economic harm to the farm. Bob Naerebout, executive director of the Idaho Dairymen's Association, which lobbied for the law, says it's a matter of property rights. I'm driving down a public road right now, he says, I can take all the pictures I want from here.
BOB NAEREBOUT: When I'm on private property, just like if I was at your house, then there are some restrictions.
CHARLES: But animal rights groups challenged the Idaho law and won. A federal judge in the district court for Idaho declared that private undercover investigations are a form of political speech. Criminalizing them, he wrote, would suppress debate on topics of great public importance. The court's decision strikes down the Idaho law, but laws in seven other states remain in force for now. The Idaho Dairymen's Association says it will urge the state of Idaho to appeal the decision. Dan Charles, NPR News.
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