Intending to stop do-gooders from collecting soil samples and other potentially harmful information on agriculture practices harmful to the environment, the Wyoming legislature passed the Data Trespass Bill, which makes it crime to take photographs on “open land” outside the city.
The bill was signed into law in March. According to the law:
“(a) A person is guilty of trespassing to unlawfully collect resource data if he:
(i) Enters onto open land for the purpose of collecting resource data
(d)(i) “Collect” means to take a sample of material, acquire, gather, photograph or otherwise preserve information in any form from open land which is submitted or intended to be submitted to any agency of the state or federal government.”
While it seems unlikely that taking scenic pictures of say, Yellowstone National Park could now get you thrown in jail, the potential for harassment and arrest of photographers taking scenic pictures of land in Wyoming has been severely increased with the adoption of the new Data Trespass law.
“Open land” includes land owned by the state, and is defined by the law as “land outside the exterior boundaries of any incorporated city, town, subdivision.”
While the bill is designed simply to protect polluters from prosecution by criminalizing the collecting of evidence against them, law enforcement officers will have it in their discretion to arrest people on suspicion of taking photographs in violation of the new law, with penalties of a year in prison and/or a $5000 fine.
The Wyoming law would be reprehensible enough were it applied only to Captain Planet and Planeteers out collecting soil samples to force government agencies to police farms in violation of the law. However, the potential infringement of the First Amendment right to photography in public makes the Data Trespass law especially treacherous.
“Over and over again I’ve seen promises by politicians that legislation is not going to be used in X, Y, or Z way but it doesn’t play out that way,” investigative journalist Will Potter told VICE News. “Once you put laws like this on the books they can be pushed to their limits.”