For decades, animal activists have gone undercover to take jobs inside large-scale livestock farms in order to document conditions for farm animals that they say are routinely inhumane. Their hidden camera footage has resulted in criminal charges against owners and workers, plant shutdowns, and after one at a California slaughterhouse in 2008, the largest meat recall in U.S. history.
But these images could soon be made illegal. Legislation pending in five states Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and New York would criminalize the actions of activists who covertly film farms. Proponents of the various pieces legislation say that their proposed laws would lead to beneficial consequences, including the protection of such farms from potential terrorist infiltration (preserving the integrity of the food supply) and espionage; the prevention of images that mislead consumers; as well as regulating the job application process to circumvent potential employees from lying in order to be hired.
These so-called "ag-gag" bills have ignited a national debate about undercover videos and have raised concerns about free speech and journalists' and whistleblowers' ability to report on the farming industry.
TIME traveled to Iowa, the nation's leading producer of eggs and pork and the first state to propose a ban on undercover videos, with one former investigator for a rare glimpse at how these videos are made and why they are so controversial.