Project Veritas Appeals to Strike Down Oregon’s Secret Recording Law

Project Veritas Appeals to Strike Down Oregon's Secret Recording Law

Project Veritas urges the 9th Circuit Court to overturn Oregon’s law banning secret recordings, citing First Amendment rights. The case raises critical free speech issues.

Bollywood Fever: Project Veritas, a conservative activist group known for releasing undercover recordings of various organizations, urged a federal appeals court on Tuesday to invalidate an Oregon state law that bans most secret recordings of in-person conversations.

Benjamin Barr, representing Project Veritas, argued before an 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle that the law infringes on the group’s First Amendment rights. “A journalist’s choice about who to record and how to do it implicates important First Amendment concerns,” Barr stated.

Barr highlighted several instances where surreptitious recordings have had a significant social impact, including the infamous tape of former President Donald Trump making controversial comments about women.

Project Veritas Appeals to Strike Down Oregon's Secret Recording Law

Oregon Solicitor General Benjamin Gutman countered that the law is “content-neutral” and does not violate the First Amendment since recording private conversations is not considered “expressive conduct.” He defended the law as a necessary measure to protect privacy.

Last year, a three-judge panel ruled in favor of Project Veritas, striking down the law. However, that ruling was vacated when the full 11-judge panel agreed to rehear the case. The initial panel’s decision was split along partisan lines, with two Republican-appointed judges in the majority and a Democratic-appointed judge dissenting. The current panel has a majority of Democratic appointees, with an 8-3 split.

The judges did not indicate a clear leaning during the hearing. Circuit Judge Daniel Collins, appointed by Trump, questioned whether the law would criminalize recording a loud public argument where participants have no expectation of privacy, to which Gutman conceded it might.

Democratic appointees pressed Barr on how the law restricts the content of speech. Barr argued that exceptions within the law, such as allowing the recording of law enforcement officers, create a disparity in recording permissions.

Oregon’s law against recording conversations without all parties’ consent dates back to 1959. While many states have similar laws, Barr argued that Oregon’s law is an “outlier” for not distinguishing situations where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The law was amended in 1979 and 2015 to include specific exceptions for felonies endangering human life and for recording law enforcement officers performing their duties.

Project Veritas, known for publishing edited undercover recordings that often portray liberal organizations negatively, filed a lawsuit against the state in 2020. They claimed that the law hindered their ability to document conversations during protests and counter-protests over racial justice in Portland, asserting that their undercover journalism is protected by the First Amendment.

The group has frequently aligned with anti-abortion advocates. In February, Missouri’s Republican attorney general referenced Project Veritas recordings in a lawsuit against a Planned Parenthood affiliate, accusing it of assisting minors in obtaining abortions in Kansas without parental notification. The affiliate denied the allegations and labeled the group “fraudulent.”

Project Veritas has faced legal challenges due to its methods. In 2022, a jury awarded $120,000 to a left-leaning political consulting firm, which accused the group of using “heavily edited” recordings to make false claims.

The ongoing case, Project Veritas v. Schmidt, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 22-35271, continues to raise pivotal questions about the balance between privacy laws and First Amendment protections.

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Pooja Chauhan

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