Wyoming just enacted a shocking new law that criminalizes citizens' collecting any sort of data - photos, temperature, soil samples or water samples for example - if they are planning to share this data with the federal government.
Why such a bizarre law? It isn't about the pictures, actually.
The law is about anything that could be used to report the condition of the environment across most of the state. Why do this?
The state government wants to conceal the fact that most of its streams are contaminated by E. coli bacteria, which can cause serious health problems, even death.
A small organization called Western Watersheds Project has found E.coli concentrations that violate water quality standards stipulated by the federal Clean Water Act. The rivers run through federal land, which would allow the going public to monitor the levels without state interference.
But instead of engaging in an honest public debate about the cause or extent of the problem, Wyoming would rather pretend the problem didn't exist. So under the new law, the state threatens anyone who would challenge this denial by producing information that documents the issue, with a term in jail.
So why does the government want to suppress this issue rather than address it?
The reason is pure politics.
Where the E. coli comes from is clear. It comes from cows spending too much time in and around streams.
But acknowledging this fact would result in rules requiring ranchers, who graze their cows on public land, to better manage their herds.
And the ranching community in Wyoming wields immense political power. It has no interest in undertaking such obligations. Given they donate heavily to politicians in the state the government is trying to stop the flow of information rather than addressing the public health problem.
The new law effectively mandates that if you discover an environmental disaster, you’re obliged to keep it to yourself.
The new law is of breathtaking scope.
Specifically, it makes “collecting resource data” from any “open land,” meaning any land outside of a city or town, whether it’s federal, state, or privately owned, a crime.
The law defines the word 'collect' as any method to “preserve information in any form,” including a “photograph”, so long as the person gathering it intends to submit it to a federal or state agency.
So in short, the law criminalizes whistle blowing that could prevent a public heath disaster and save lives.