Hard Working Law

Click Here to Contact Us


Pennsylvanians may lose Privacy Rights

Several prosecutors in Pennsylvania are attempting a major expansion of government surveillance power.  They are advocating for House Bill 2400, which they have placed on a fast-track through the legislature before the state budget passes and before it can get a thorough review from lawmakers and the public. The bill would make dozens of changes to current law that seriously undermines the privacy of Pennsylvania’s citizens. The bill would allow prosecutors to use civilians’ illegally- made wiretaps in court.

In Pennsylvania, recording private conversations is a criminal act if done without consent. If someone commits this crime, the illegal recording cannot be used by prosecutors in court.

Excluding illegal civilian wiretaps from court is common sense. It guarantees that a person cannot be convicted of a crime based on evidence that someone got by committing an illegal act against the person. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution already requires that if police illegally wiretap a person, the illegal recording cannot be used against him in court. Prohibiting illegal civilian wiretaps is a logical extension of the Fourth Amendment rule. Unless civilians have more authority than police.

If this rule did not exist, a person could intentionally commit a crime—recording private conversations without consent—against another.  If a prosecutor used an illegal wiretap in court, would the prosecutor be likely to turn around and prosecute the person who made the illegal recording? And is it too farfetched to imagine a law enforcement officer, with a wink and a nod, telling a complaining witness, “If I recorded the suspect’s conversation, we couldn’t use it in court. But if somebody else did it, then we may have something”?

It’s no surprise you that prosecutors want to get rid of this “exclusionary rule” for illegal civilian wiretaps.  But it should surprise you that legislators appear to be considering it. If the supporters of HB 2400 succeed, any illegal wiretap could end up in court as evidence against the victim of illegal, secret surveillance.

Excluding illegal wiretaps—by police or civilians—is how the law ensures our privacy rights. It is a sensible rule, and it should stay in the laws of Pennsylvania.

The bill is scheduled for Appropriations today. 

Categories: Trial and Litigation