It’s a hazard of this social media and cellphone era that anything you say might end up being secretly recorded and used online against you. That’s what happened last year to Planned Parenthood, with not only political consequences but collateral violence and loss of life.
The video smear by anti-abortion activists involved undercover videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood illegally trafficking in fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood was doing no such thing, of course, and was cleared of wrongdoing, but not before millions of people saw and heard the recordings. A court order eventually stopped their distribution on an activist’s website.
California outlaws the taping of private conversations without permission from all parties, but not their distribution. Planned Parenthood has been trying this year to change that, not only because the videos prompted numerous efforts to defund the abortion provider but because they sparked a wave of threats and clinic attacks that eventually killed three people and injured nine others.
Unfortunately, the change state lawmakers could agree on – Assembly Bill 1671 – is poorly conceived and, despite much negotiation, not ready for prime time. Gov. Jerry Brown should veto it.
The bill, by Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, is much narrower than its original iteration, which would have made it a crime for anyone to share an illegal recording; the current version applies only to illegally taping a private conversation with a health care provider and then distributing the results.
The original draft would have left journalists and whistleblowers vulnerable to prosecution, and was understandably viewed as a potential violation of the First Amendment. But even the compromise, hastily cobbled together in the waning days of the legislative session, cries out for more thorough consideration.
Why, for example, should health care providers get special protections? The bill would apply whether they were taped talking about privileged health records or the weather. And what would constitute a provider? This bill seems to cover not just doctors and chiropractors but their lobbyists.
Would the Democrats who dominate state lawmaking have been as open to creating a new crime had this bill arisen from, say, a video sting of a gun-manufacturing operation?
Information has always had power, and the internet has weakened important checks on the spread of bad information. That’s something to deal with, but Californians can do better than this bill.