There is a lot of misinformation out there right now about the so-called "ag-gag" bill in Idaho. The bill (which is properly known as Senate Bill 1337) has now been passed by both houses of the state legislature and signed into law by the governor. First off, let me say that I do harbor one lingering complaint against the bill and that is the fact that it currently applies only to businesses within one specific industry when it should apply to all businesses and, in fact, to all private property.
Now let's examine exactly what actions are actually prohibited by this bill. The relevant language from the bill is as follows: (Emphasis added.)
A person commits the crime of interference with agricultural production if the person knowingly:
- Is not employed by an agricultural production facility and enters an agricultural production facility by force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass;
- Obtains records of an agricultural production facility by force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass;
- Obtains employment with an agricultural production facility by force, threat, or misrepresentation with the intent to cause economic or other injury to the facility's operations, livestock, crops, owners, personnel, equipment, buildings, premises, business interests or customers;
- Enters an agricultural production facility that is not open to the public and, without the facility owner's express consent or pursuant to judicial process or statutory authorization, makes audio or video recordings of the conduct of an agricultural production facility's operations; or
- Intentionally causes physical damage or injury to the agricultural production facility's operations, livestock, crops, personnel, equipment, buildings or premises.
Unless you support gaining access to private property by "force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass," you can hardly argue with the first three points, and unless you support vandalism, you cannot really find fault with the fifth. Most of the complaints regarding this bill stem from opposition to the fourth point (d) and have even led some to suggest that the bill is silencing "free speech" or gagging the "freedom of the press." Let's consider those claims a bit more objectively, though. The provision only applies to a facility that "is not open to the public." This excludes anywhere that you would normally have a right to be. The only way you can gain access to property which is not open to the public is by invitation or through "force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass." If you have been allowed access to the private property in question, the only limitation on your behavior is that you may not make "audio or video recordings of the conduct of an agricultural production facility's operations" unless you have the property owner's consent.
Perhaps the only thing truly surprising about this law is that the actions it criminalizes were not already considered illegal. Would you really expect that you had a right to make video recordings on private property without the property owner's permission? Anyone with even a basic grasp of the notions of property rights and the right to privacy can understand why this is a basic, common-sense protection for property owners. Senate Bill 1337 does not deprive anyone of their rights because Senate Bill 1337 only applies to actions which occur on private property.
Ultimately no one has the right to access property without the owner's permission or to do any action on the property that the owner does not permit. While some animal rights activists will argue that their crusade to "protect" animals somehow trumps the property rights of the animal owners, such a notion is anathema to any libertarian or classical liberal understanding of property ownership and property rights. While I can (believe it or not) sympathize with the intentions of those who do not want to see animals mistreated, the simple fact is that owned animals are the property of man to be used as man sees fit.
This is not to say that there is (or should be) no recourse for those whom animal treatment is an issue of paramount importance. There are numerous free market mechanisms whereby such activists can seek accountability and publicize those businesses which fail to meet voluntary transparency standards. Buyers who find such matters compelling can choose to boycott the businesses in question while buyers who are less so inclined are free to do business with whomever they wish. The free market is self-regulating in that businesses which engage in activity sufficiently objectionable to dissuade their customers' patronage will ultimately fail and be replaced by competitors who better meet their customers' expectations.
Instead of engaging in the tactics of force, threat, misrepresentation, or trespass, activists should stick to voluntary measures and information campaigns to advance their goals. If sufficient numbers ever agree with their cause, they will be successful, but so long as they represent a disaffected minority, their influence will (and should) remain muted.
In summary let me say that the free market will ultimately determine what varieties of food production methods will be tolerated, and that there is no need to sacrifice private property rights in order to advance the goals of activists and malcontents. It is far better to allow businesses to use their property (including their animals) as they see fit rather than to surrender our private property rights in pursuit of a utopian ideal. Senate Bill 1337, while imperfect in its narrow focus on agricultural businesses, is a necessary and appropriate measure to protect property owners from damage, illegal entry, and the creation and dissemination of unlawful recordings. Opposition to this bill, no matter how it may be characterized, is fundamentally just opposition to private property rights and it must be recognized and exposed as such. There are many worthwhile causes in this world, but none so great as the protection of the inalienable rights of man which of course include his life, liberty, and property. Senate Bill 1337 is not a perfect bill, but it does assist in the restoration of property rights, and for that reason, I must—and I do—support it.