Pa. GOP does some smartphone sleuthing

     The latest sign outside Pennsylvania Sen. Scott Wagner is now under surveillance because of previous mishaps to other provocative messaging. (Mary Wilson/WHYY)

    The latest sign outside Pennsylvania Sen. Scott Wagner is now under surveillance because of previous mishaps to other provocative messaging. (Mary Wilson/WHYY)

    Pennsylvania Sen. Scott Wagner said it all started because people were messing with his signs.

    The York County Republican and trash hauling company executive is known for being blunt. That extends to the large signs propped up outside his Capitol office. The posters are often critical of government inefficiency or public sector labor.

    This week’s placard targets the school teachers union – and it’s under watch.

    Two smartphones taped low to the ground and apparently plugged into a power source have their camera lenses aimed at the sign.

    Wagner’s office said the Senate GOP installed the crude surveillance system about a month ago because the signs were being “defaced.”

    “His infamous signs,” chuckled Jason High, Wagner’s chief of staff. “His door signs were thrown on the floor.”

    It is not clear who owns the phones. A Senate GOP spokesman said they were hand-me-downs that cost nothing to obtain.

    “There are cameras in many places in the building,” said Drew Crompton, chief counsel to Sen. Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, the chamber’s president pro tem. “I find it hard to believe that this is a real story.”

    Crompton said no one has reviewed the phones’ footage in the month they’ve been up because the signs have remained unscathed.

    “No one reviews the tapes unless or until the signs are vandalized again,” said Crompton. “They were put in place for a limited time.”

    Senate Democrats called the practice is downright creepy.

    “It is a bit strange and seems unnecessary,” said Ben Waxman, spokesman for Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia. He said staffers who wear dresses or skirts to work consider it creepy to walk past the cameras, since they’re located near the ground.

    The Department of General Services, which manages the Capitol grounds and building, had no knowledge of the smartphone surveillance.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.