As with any case that deals with wiretapping, the situation in Pennsylvania could get ugly. Criminals are slipping through the cracks by switching out cell phones, according to those in favor of changing the existing bill. At the same time, Pennsylvanians could have their constitutional rights violated, according to those in opposition. Whatever the stance, there could be some changes in the way Pennsylvania wiretaps its residents by the end of this month.
An interview of spokesmen for both sides that recently aired on a local news station, suggests that the wiretapping debate is as gritty as a courtroom drama – which is predictable since one spokesman works for the D.A. and the other for a criminal defense association.
Fourteen years have passed since any changes have been made to Pennsylvania’s wiretap law, House Bill 2400, and proponents for changing aspects of the law, firmly believe that now is the time. Unlike federal laws that allow the FBI and other government agencies certain liberties with wiretapping, state laws restrict law enforcement from many surveillance practices. As a result, state law enforcement is not nearly as technologically proficient as organizations such as the FBI, who can wiretap any form of communication, including the latest in VoIP.
But there are no greater advocates for changing Pennsylvania’s outdated policy than the state’s District Attorney’s Association, who claims that their stance is focused on pushing for changes in technology-related language that will improve law enforcement’s leverage in the Digital Age – leverage they believe is currently at the command of criminals.
Dauphin County’s Assistant DA, Francis Chardo, explained in the interview, "When you have an authorization for a wiretap and we go through a lot of steps, a lot of safeguards, that it be targeted to the criminal. So, when he switches phones real quick to avoid detection, we can follow him."
Barb Zemlock of the Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, is unsympathetic to law enforcement’s plea to overcome barriers imposed by today’s technology, and expressed in the same interview that the focus should be on how changes to House Bill 2400 raise “constitutional concerns”. "It definitely goes too far and does encroach on individual's expectation of privacy," Zemlock said.
Chardo dismissed Zemlock’s sentiment and argued that by not making changes, law makers are essentially, “revictimizing this young girl that's been subjected to rape" – referring to a case when taped evidence was dismissed due to the prosecution’s failure to comply to the “two-party consent” wiretap stipulation, a stipulation that is also in review for change. Chardo’s most effective argument was that the proposed changes will have little impact on everyday life.
Some sources claim that the ACLU is only opposed to changes that could result in greater surveillance of citizens, while others claim that the ACLU is opposed to the bill altogether. Pennsylvania’s careful examination over this bill could be typical of similar cases in every state, but that is one of the ways that separates the U.S. from countries like Russia.
Edited by Brooke Neuman