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Bullied South Fayette student's case prompts wiretap overhaul legislation

| Thursday, April 17, 2014, 11:18 p.m.

A Pennsylvania lawmaker wants to change the state's wiretapping and electronic surveillance law since a South Fayette High School student was cited for recording audio of a bullying incident at the school.

“Sometimes, you don't realize a problem until there's a problem,” said state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, who wants to include a whistleblower provision in the wiretapping law for students in schools or school-sponsored events. “If we can provide some clarity in the law about what a student can and can't do, then I don't think that's a bad thing. If a student knows that they can record a bully, and if a bully knows that they can be recorded, then I think that can do a lot of good.”

A judge on Thursday withdrew a disorderly conduct charge against South Fayette sophomore Christian Stanfield, 15, who used his iPad to record students bullying him in February. Administrators made Stanfield erase the recording and reported it to police as a potential wiretap law violation, a reaction that drew criticism from parents and anti-bullying advocates on social media and at a recent school board meeting.

White, who is up for re-election and will be challenged in May's primary by Tom Casciola, a member of Cecil's board of supervisors, said he met with Christian and his mother, Shea Love, 40, about the proposal.

“I'm glad that there's going to be a law to stop what Christian went through,” Love said. “But you can't stop there. There has to be something bigger.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania opposes White's proposed changes to the wiretap law, said Andy Hoover, the organization's legislative director. He said the expectation of privacy, a component of the wiretap law, varies depending on the situation.

Students or staff members having a personal conversation could be considered private, but students in a lunchroom, classroom or hallway are not, he said. School officials should have better addressed issues of bullying in the South Fayette case, he said.

“There are numerous ways for schools to address bullying without turning every kid into a spy with a camera,” Hoover said. “When you open up the wiretap act in this way, it leads to unintended consequences.”

Hoover said amendments to the wiretap act made in 2012 allow for victims or witnesses of violent crime to record without consent. White said a provision in his bill would require that the recorded material only go to authorities.

White intends to introduce the bill next week.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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