Data Collection Lawsuit Dismissed By Judge

Jul 8, 2016

U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl has dismissed a lawsuit challenging a Wyoming law that criminalizes taking photos or collecting data on private lands without permission.

Judge Skavdahl dismissed the lawsuit, saying there is no constitutional right to trespassing on private lands. Skavdahl had been concerned about a previous provision that banned the public from open land, but lawmakers removed that from the law earlier this year. 

David Muraskin is an attorney with Public Justice representing Western Watersheds Project and the National Press Photographers Association, two of the groups that filed the suit.

“We’re obviously very disappointed with the court’s ruling, but are exceptionally grateful that we were able to force the state of Wyoming to revisit the original legislation and revise it,” said Muraskin.

Still, Muraskin said Judge Skavdahl was wrong to frame this as a trespass law.

“What this is, is a law about citizens seeking to get information so they can engage in speech, engage with their fellow citizens, engage with their government about what’s going on,” said Muraskin. “It’s not about trespass; it’s about speech. That’s what the first amendment prohibits.”

Brett Moline with the Wyoming Farm Bureau disagreed.

“That’s utter nonsense. If you have permission to be where you’re at, you can report things. You know if you’re on a public right of way and you see something, you’re not trespassing. Our premise of this law change was that if you are trespassing, you are breaking the law,” said Moline.

If found guilty of breaking the law violators could get six months in jail and a $5,000 fine. 

Moline added the law now places more responsibility on the person collecting data instead of landowners.

“You know with the advent with GPS you should be able to tell pretty close to where you’re at. The burden should be on the person collecting data,” said Moline.

The Western Watersheds Project and press groups that filed the lawsuit are considering appealing the dismissal to the 10th U.S. circuit court.