Video Surveillance Laws in Pennsylvania

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Pennsylvania has some of the toughest video surveillance laws in the United States. Even law enforcement agencies are prohibited from employing video surveillance in many situations without prior court approval. Along with limiting surveillance, Pennsylvania state law enforces harsh penalties for violating surveillance laws. For example, intercepting an oral communication by use of a video camera is classified as a third-degree felony punishable by substantial time in prison.

Public vs. Private Video Surveillance

Video surveillance is legal in locations where there is no “reasonable expectation of privacy.” For example, the city of Philadelphia has many video surveillance cameras to monitor public activity. On the other hand, a private residence or a restroom cannot be videotaped unless certain guidelines are met such, as a warrant from a judge, prior notification, or consent by those who are taped.

One Party Consent vs. Two Party Consent

Under federal law, at least one party must be informed and consent to video surveillance. Generally, this law is used to prevent surveillance by a third party. Federal law allows one party also could videotape the other without his knowledge. However, Pennsylvania requires that all parties must consent to video surveillance. For example, you cannot tape an interview with a public figure without obtaining prior consent. However, one-party video surveillance is allowable as part of a law enforcement investigation if one of the parties being filmed has given prior consent to interception.

Exceptions to Video Surveillance Prohibitions

No prior court approval is required for video surveillance by law enforcement in certain contexts. For example, a law enforcement agent may use video surveillance in a situation involving hostages or a fugitive who has barricaded himself inside a building. However, if a policeman uses a video camera as part of an investigation, the footage will be inadmissible in court unless it pertains to a prosecution “involving harm done to the investigative or law enforcement officer.”

Video Surveillance in Correctional Facilities

Correctional facilities in Pennsylvania reserve the right to videotape all inmates as long as the inmates are given prior notification. In order to safeguard the attorney-client privilege, the facility may not record any conversation between an inmate and an attorney.

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