Iowa judge finds undercover farm investigations law violates First Amendment
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Iowa judge finds undercover farm investigations law violates First Amendment

A federal judge in Iowa held Wednesday that a 2012 Iowa law criminalizing undercover farm investigators was a violation of the First Amendment.

In 2012 lawmakers amended Iowa Code 717A to include a provision making it a crime for investigators to go undercover at farms and slaughterhouses for data collection and investigative journalism purposes. The state of Iowa is defending the 2012 legislation based on concerns over facility security and the negative reputation given to farmhouses. Farmers believed that their crops and livestock were susceptible to outside threats and security would be compromised if undercover investigators continue to make it onto their agricultural facilities.

The plaintiffs and the court finds that the change to the Iowa Code restricts First Amendment rights by limiting the content of what others can speak freely about. Criminalizing the undercover investigators would limit reporting on the sanitary and animal conditions at the farms. The courts reason that the biosecurity threat is merely a preemption of a threat and should not always be equally traded off at the expense of free speech rights.

The court also found that the statute was over-inclusive in some parts and way too broad in others. The amended code criminalized the most innocent of acts and the language used could open many doors for other rights to be jeopardized for the sake of preventing a possible threat to the farm’s security.