Judge Rules FBI Violated Fourth Amendment By Recording 200+ Hours of Audio At A Courthouse

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Next Web: A federal judge in the Bay Area ruled that the FBI violated the fourth amendment by recording more than 200 hours of conversation at the entrance to a court house. Agents planted concealed microphones around the San Mateo County Courthouse in 2009 and 2010 as part of an investigation into bid-rigging at public auctions for foreclosed homes. In November, lawyers representing five defendants filed a motion that the recordings were unconstitutional on fourth amendment grounds (illegal search and seizure). U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer wrote in an order yesterday: [T]he government utterly failed to justify a warrantless electronic surveillance that recorded private conversations spoken in hushed tones by judges, attorneys, and court staff entering and exiting a courthouse. Even putting aside the sensitive nature of the location here, Defendants have established that they believed their conversations were private and they took reasonable steps to thwart eavesdroppers. The report continues: “The FBI originally used a cooperator wearing a wire to eavesdrop at auctions as well as an undercover agent posing as an investor. At some point though, the cooperating source ‘soured’ according to FBI testimony and it became ‘typical behavior’ for the accused to ‘walk away from a larger group’ and speak ‘separate[ly] from [the] informant and undercover agent.’ The FBI then adopted the new technique, bugging the courthouse and collecting more than 200 hours of audio over a nine month span. The problem, as pointed out by Judge Breyer, was: ‘[The FBI was] capturing the conversations of anyone who entered or exited the employee entrance of the courthouse… The FBI never sought judicial authorization for this program.'”

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