The House on Tuesday voted to pass legislation authored by Rep. Jeff Pyle (R- Armstrong, Butler, Indiana) that would update state law regarding surveillance and trespassing to impose criminal penalties on invasions of privacy by remote-controlled helicopters and aircraft (often referred to as “drones”) that are equipped with video cameras.
The measure, House Bill 1339, would amend Title 18 of the Pennsylvania Criminal Code by adding a new section making it illegal for a person to engage in surveillance while trespassing in a private place.
“This legislation is similar to previous common-sense measures I have authored and passed into law in that the idea for it came from my constituents,” Pyle said. “In the past, I received a rash of complaints from constituents about individuals who were surreptitiously and obviously trespassing on their property to ‘spy’ on them and their guests. Specifically, I received complaints were some folks were using unmanned radio-controlled helicopters equipped with high-definition video equipment to intrude on their neighbors’ privacy.
Pyle examined the state’s criminal provisions for “trespassing” and “invasion of privacy” and discovered that neither statute fit the circumstances described above. So, he drafted legislation that makes in a crime to “engage in surveillance while trespassing in a private place.” Pyle’s legislation also defines each term- “surveillance,” “trespassing” and “private place” so that it only addresses the offending behavior. The legislation also makes specific exceptions for legitimate law enforcement activities and manned aircraft flying in navigable air space.
“Whether we’re talking about someone ‘peeping’ in a bedroom window or spying on a neighbor’s pool party, every Pennsylvanian should have an expectation of privacy in their homes and on their private property and invasive conduct like this should be prohibited,” Pyle said. “It’s up to us, as lawmakers, to ensure that the Crimes Code keeps up with today’s technology.”
House Bill 1339 provides stepped penalties for this offense, similar to what the Commonwealth already does for “invasion of privacy.” A single offense under the new section created by the measure would be graded as a summary offense. Multiple offenses (or instances in which there are multiple victims) would be graded as a third-degree misdemeanor.
The measure now moves to the Senate for consideration.