HARRISBURG - The Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee today passed legislation to revise the commonwealth's Wiretap Act, the law that governs how the government conducts surveillance on its citizens and when Pennsylvanians have the right to record each other. The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania said that the bill, House Bill 2400, significantly increases the spying power of the government and civilians and decreases the privacy of all Pennsylvanians.
"This bill brings Pennsylvania one step closer to a surveillance state," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "There is a balance to be struck between public safety and our right to be left alone. This bill goes too far and significantly diminishes our right to privacy."
HB 2400 makes at least a dozen changes to the Wiretap Act. The ACLU of Pennsylvania raised concerns about six of the changes, including allowing civilians to record each other without consent in private conversations; government surveillance without a warrant via seized mobile devices; and allowing recording of others without consent by simply posting notice.
Under current state law, all persons in a private conversation must consent to being recorded, a provision in law known as "two-party consent." The ACLU of Pennsylvania expressed its support for the current law and raised concerns that the bill represents the de facto repeal of two-party consent.
"The current law allows Pennsylvanians to move freely about their private lives without worrying that any person at any time could be recording their every word," said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "This bill creates an Orwellian society in which neighbors are encouraged to spy on neighbors."
Specifically, HB 2400 allows civilians to record each other without the consent of others in the conversation if the person thinks he might collect evidence of a past, present, or future crime. The provision applies to first degree felonies and "crimes of violence."
"Civilians are expected to predict the future and know that they'll collect evidence," Hoover said.
The bill also allows the government to use illegal recordings made by civilians in its investigations and prosecutions. That provision applies to any crime.
"Two-party consent disintegrates if this bill becomes law," Hoover added.
HB 2400 now heads to the floor of the House of Representatives for its consideration.