Wyoming’s Senate Bill 12, also known as the Data Trespass Bill, doesn’t look that controversial on the surface — it makes it illegal for people to trespass on private land for data-collection purposes.
But upon a closer look, as ThinkProgress reported, the bill actually does much more than that and concerned citizens looking to turn in polluters to the cops could land in jail.
Imagine, for a second, a hiker who is taking a walk through a national forest in Wyoming. During that hike, she notices a visibly polluted stream within the area. The next day, she returns with a camera to take a picture of the stream, with the intention of showing those photographs to the local authorities as proof of pollution. Under the Data Trespass Bill, unless the hiker obtained specific permission from the land’s owner or manager — in this case, the Forest Service — to collect that data, she would be subject to prosecution that could result in up to $5,000 in fines and a year in prison.
The bill is written so broadly that environmental groups are rightly worried about the effect it could have on citizen science.
“We are deeply concerned that this poorly written and overly vague bill will prevent concerned citizens and students from undertaking valuable research projects on public lands out of fear of accidentally running afoul the new law … and being criminally and civilly prosecuted,” said Connie Wilbert of Wyoming’s chapter of the Sierra Club.
“There is no need for this new bill, and we can only conclude that it is an attempt by private landowners to scare people away from valid research efforts on public land.”
Those landowners are, most likely, a group of Wyoming ranchers who, for years “have been locked in a battle with a small group of citizen scientists, working for the Western Watersheds Project [WWP], over data they’ve collected — and how they’ve collected it.”
Basically the WWP found elevated levels of E. coli bacteria in water sources on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management and believe that this data proves ranchers are grazing their cattle too close to streams. The ranchers filed a lawsuit last year claiming that the data collected “was obtained by crossing private property to reach the public lands — something that, under the new law would be illegal without permission from the ranchers that own that land.”
And of course, if the ranchers are grazing their cattle too close to streams and thereby contaminating the water, of course they aren’t going to allow the WWP members to crossover their land to collect data.
This bill shows just how much government, at all levels, will bend over to help protect corporate interests, whether that corporation is Big Oil or Big Beef.