Unfortunately for the FBI, a federal judge has ruled that over 200 hours of conversations recorded in a bugged courthouse are a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment. Since the Fourth Amendment bans unreasonable searches, the lawyers of several defendants in the recorded conversations argued that they had a reasonable expectation of privacy within the courthouse. As per the judge’s ruling, it would seem that the court was in agreement.
The case traces its origins back to 2009 and 2011, when the FBI bugged the San Mateo County Courthouse in Redwood City, California. They were attempting to gather evidence on people they suspected of rigging public auctions on foreclosed homes. While US District Judge Charles Breyer has agreed to suppress the evidence, no decision has been made yet to the rest of the prosecution’s case.
When the FBI first began building its case, they used an informant to gather information via a wire. Unfortunately, this wasn’t effective for very long, which led the FBI to look for alternative routes to the information they needed. In addition to violating the rights of the suspects, Judge Breyer also found that the FBI violated the rights of many people that spoke in the courthouse, unaware that they were also being listened in on.
Although this may be a step back for the FBI’s case, it certainly stands as a victory to anyone concerned with their privacy in a post-digital world. As Judge Breyer noted in his decision, privacy may eventually become a dated notion, but the Fourth Amendment still exists to protect it right now.