For many years, the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force has said that animal rights activists who conduct undercover investigations on farms could be prosecuted as domestic terrorists.
The FBI has taken this position in the case of animal rights activist Ryan Shapiro, who obtained new documents through a Freedom of Information Act request that showed that the bureau recommended that activists like him who made their way onto farms to videotape the treatment of animals be prosecuted under terrorism statutes.
The documents were issued in 2003 by the Joint Terrorism Task Force in response to an animal rights article in which Shapiro and two others admitted to shooting video and rescuing animals from a farm. The FBI files indicate that the agency concluded that the trio violated the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. However, Shapiro maintains that what he did was an act of civil disobedience and should not be considered terrorism.
An attorney who is representing Shapiro said that the manner in which the FBI is interpreting the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act is making it possible for people who engage in legal advocacy efforts to be prosecuted as terrorists. The FBI has declined to comment on the documents, but has said that it does not collect or keep information on "pure First Amendment activities" unless doing so is "pertinent to a legitimate law enforcement activity."
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