Wyoming "Data Trespass" Legal Conflict Settled by Ranchers, Enviros

September 7, 2016

A lawsuit over Wyoming's controversial "data trespass" law was settled in August without really resolving any of the important Constitutional issues behind it.

Wyoming in 2015 passed a "data trespass" law making it illegal to gather data on pollution violations on "private open land." Journalism and environmental groups criticized the law as an unconstitutional infringement on freedom of the press under the First Amendment. A journalist taking a photo or water sample from a public road or bridge over a stream could be in violation.

One of the biggest problems with the law was what was meant under the loose term "private open land." The settlement, along with court rulings in the case, may not have cleared that up much. Nor did they clear up the underlying First Amendment issue.

Both sides claimed victory in the settlement — a group of ranchers and an alliance of environmentalists led by the Western Watersheds Project. Environmentalists paid no damages and had the suit against them dropped. Ranchers claimed the law had been clarified.

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