RALEIGH, NC. – A federal judge recently declared unconstitutional a North Carolina “ag-gag” law that criminalized undercover investigations of agriculture operations.

US District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder said in his 73-page ruling that the challenged provisions from North Carolina’s Property Protection Act “fail to pass muster under the First Amendment.”

The state law was passed in 2015 as a protection to farmers after animal rights activists began publishing undercover videos supporting accusations of animal cruelty. The law was passed by the North Carolina General Assembly despite a veto from then North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory.

Under this law, individuals who film unlicensed recordings or take photographs on non-public business property can face civil penalties of up to $5,000 and jail time. The law applied to activists, journalists and anyone else who poses as an employee but engages in unauthorized recording of business activities.

The plaintiffs in this recent case included People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Inc. (“PETA”), Center for Food Safety (“CFS”), Animal Legal Defense Fund (“ALDF”), Farm Sanctuary, Food & Water Watch (“FWW”), Government Accountability Project (“GAP”), Farm Forward, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (“ASPCA”). The group first sued the state of North Carolina in 2016.

Other states have recently had similar laws struck down. In January 2019, Iowa’s own law banning undercover investigations at agriculture facilities was ruled against on First Amendment grounds.