HARRISBURG - Last week the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee hosted a hearing on revisions to the commonwealth's Wiretap Act. While no comprehensive legislation has been introduced on the issue, the committee is considering changes that include allowing the government to intercept communications without a warrant; loosening the current requirement that all parties consent to recording when there is an expectation of privacy; and allowing what are known as "target specific" warrants or "roving wiretaps."
Two government officials testified in favoring of broadening their surveillance power. Andy Hoover, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, was the only witness to provide the committee with critical feedback on the proposed changes.
The following can be attributed to Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
"There must be clear boundaries between the government and the people. Some of the proposed changes to the Wiretap Act break down those boundaries.
"It's not surprising that people in government want more power to spy on Pennsylvanians. And as usual, they are using fear to build support for their power grab."
The ACLU of Pennsylvania opposes the proposed weakening of "all party consent" and the proposed warrantless interception of communications. The civil liberties organization has withheld judgment on "target specific" warrants until more details are known about the initiative and has proposed strengthening language in the Wiretap Act to clarify that all parties must consent to a recording when there is an expectation of privacy. Both state and federal case law back up the latter proposal.
The following can be attributed to Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
"Some of the comments by the government officials at the hearing were disturbing. The chief deputy attorney general said, ‘We'll be back,' for more revisions, suggesting that they want more than what is currently being considered. The Montgomery County District Attorney said, ‘Unfortunately, I've read the case,' in which the Supreme Court ruled that the government must get a warrant before putting a GPS device on a car.
"These comments suggest that people in government have an insatiable appetite for more power to spy on Pennsylvanians.
"To be clear, the ACLU of Pennsylvania opposes some of these ideas, has no position on others, and is waiting to hear more about still others. We recognize that law enforcement must be able to conduct surveillance. It must also be done in a way that balances public safety with the people's right to be free from the big eye of government."
Hoover's testimony is available here.