Ag-gag laws are laws that ban the use of film, photography , undercover investigations, or even whistleblowing in places like slaughterhouses and farms. Some are passed after undercover investigations showing conditions in these places, like Utah’s ag-gag law, which was passed the same day a fifth employee of butterball pleaded guilty to animal cruelty as a result of an undercover investigation. Idaho passed their law ( which was later ruled unconstitutional) after an undercover investigation at a large dairy farm showed workers punching and otherwise abusing the cows. Currently a lot of states have at least attempted to pass one, and Australia tried too. They are often disguised as animal protection bills, as they require abuse to be reported within a certain amount of time. Which on the face of it, is good. But the problem is, investigators aim to prove that abuse is not the exception in these places, but the norm. They want to show that it isn’t just a few bad employees doing it, which is exactly what the industry likes to claim. Consider if you were trying to bust a gang of drug smugglers for example, but had to report the first crime you saw in 24 hours, there is no way you could implicate the whole network. Also, many of the abuses are actually perfectly legal, as under American law, farmed animals are exempt from cruelty laws as long as it is normal farming practice. This means it does not matter how bad or painful a certain practice or procedure is, if lots of other farms do it, it is legal. Some laws also prohibit investigators to talk to the media.
And believe it or not, people have been prosecuted under these laws. In Utah, four people were detained and prosecuted for photographing a factory farm from the highway.
Even if the act you are filming is blatant abuse, you can still be arrested, as happened in another case, also in Utah. While filming a downed cow( a cow unable to get up) being dragged, Amy Meyer filmed it with her cell phone from public property. She was prosecuted under the ag-gag law. http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/first-ag-gag-arrest-utah-amy-meyer/6948/
Sometimes they even go a step further. An investigator with Compassion Over Killing was charged with animal cruelty in 2013 for filming the abuse of other workers, even though she was the one to turn the footage over to the police. They accused her of participating in the abuse, by not coming forward immediately, (but as discussed above, that is not prudent for many investigators wishing to obtain additional evidence) and also accused her of participating directly, but they do not elaborate much. It seems unlikely that an animal abuser would go undercover and risk physical violence to expose abuse, although sadly some investigators do have to participate in abuse to uncover evidence and gain the trust of their ‘colleagues’. For example, if you work undercover in a slaughterhouse, you may have to kill animals. If you work undercover in a lab, you may have to hold them for procedures. It is very common for the industry to accuse activists of harming animals, and I think it likely that is all that accusation is.