Court Strikes a Blow for Transparency in NC | Beaufort County Now | In a victory for animal rights activists, a federal judge has thrown out portions of a North Carolina law designed to discourage undercover employees at farms and other workplaces from taking documents or footage. | beaufort observer, court, transparency, animal rights activists, federal judge, june 17, 2020

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Court Strikes a Blow for Transparency in NC

Publisher's note: This post appears here courtesy of the Beaufort Observer.

    The Winston-Salem Journal is reporting:

  • In a victory for animal rights activists, a federal judge has thrown out portions of a North Carolina law designed to discourage undercover employees at farms and other workplaces from taking documents or footage.
  • Several groups sued state officials for a 2015 law that provides civil penalties and damages against people whom bill supporters labeled as purposefully getting jobs to steal company secrets or record purported maltreatment. The plaintiffs, which include People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said the measure violated the U.S. Constitution by stifling their ability to investigate employers for illegal or unethical conduct.

    ...

    Read the full article HERE on Winston-Salem Journal.

    Commentary

    This is a tough issue. Protection of private property vs. First Amendment rights, coupled with the public's right to know about how its food is prepared and the exposing of possible criminal activity by employers, present the "balancing of interests" test that arises in most cases involving fundamental constitutional rights. It's called strict scrutiny.

    Strict scrutiny is applied whenever government action infringes on a fundamental right. It is not an "either-or" matter. The presumption is that no "rights" are absolute, but can legitimately be restricted for a good enough reason. That reason, in a strict scrutiny application must rise to a "compelling reason" level and then the restriction must be narrowly tailored to accomplish a legitimate government interest in the least restrictive manner possible.

    In this case it does not appear that the Attorney General's Office did a very good job of justifying the government's interest is preventing clandestine recording on private property or in violation of company policies. Of course, some will suggest the AG's heart was not in protecting a bill passed by the Republican General Assembly.

    Be that as it may, we believe it was a good decision. We simply don't think the government has a very compelling reason to avoid transparency, even if it is on private property if the public has a legitimate interest in what is being done on that property. Project Veritas has shown over and over that not every private organization acts legitimately all of the time. We would never have know aborted baby parts were/are being sold by Planned Parenthood had it not been for secret recordings by Project Veritas.

    For the record, we acknowledge that no employee has First Amendment rights in their employment and that they can be forced to sign non-disclosure agreements. But where the reason for violating those agreements is in the public interest the restrictions by employers should fall to transparency. If you have nothing to hide, why try to hide it?

    North Carolina, in particular, according to various Open Government Watchdogs, has one of the least effective Whistleblower systems and sorely need to be strengthen. The state's most effective watchdog is supposed to be the State Auditor's Office but as we saw with their investigation of Beaufort County, it leaves a great deal to be desired. A more effective whistleblower system could be a major improvement of transparency in our state and county. This court decision helps, but still leaves us far short of what we need. The press could do a much better job of exposing corruption in government with a more effective whistleblower law.


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