HARRISBURG (June 13)- The Pennsylvania House of Representatives today passed legislation to expand the surveillance capabilities of both the government and civilians, a move that drew a sharp rebuke from the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.
"It is disappointing that the state House rushed into this action," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "This bill makes at least 13 changes to a highly technical section of law and was introduced less than three weeks ago.
"This legislation was jammed through in record time with no hearing and little serious consideration. This isn't how government is supposed to work."
House Bill 2400 amends the state's Wiretap Act to allow the recording of private conversations without a person's consent or knowledge, to allow the government to intercept incoming messages to a mobile phone it has seized without court approval, and to allow the government to gather location data of mobile phones.
"This bill is an expansion of the surveillance state," said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
The Wiretap Act is a section of law that governs how the government conducts surveillance and when civilians may record others. It includes a provision known as "two-party consent," which requires that all parties to a private conversation consent to being recorded.
HB 2400 includes multiple exceptions to two-party consent, including an exception when a person believes he may gather evidence of a first degree felony or a "crime of violence," the use of illegal civilian wiretaps by the government in its investigations and prosecutions, and recording without consent when "constructive notice" of possible recording has been posted somewhere.
"Two-party consent is a key provision in law. It keeps Pennsylvanians from worrying that their every private word could be recorded by anyone at any time," Hoover said. "But HB 2400 includes de facto repeal of two-party consent.
"The legislation creates an Orwellian society in which neighbors are encouraged to spy on neighbors."
The House slightly modified the legislation. On Tuesday, the chamber approved an amendment to allow wiretaps from out-of-state to be admitted as evidence if the recording was obtained under a court order. The previous version of the legislation did not include the court order requirement.
The ACLU of Pennsylvania supported the amendment, which was sponsored by Representative Eugene DePasquale of York.
HB 2400 now heads to the Senate for its consideration.