For a period of 10 months, the FBI planted hidden microphones in several public locations outside a courthouse in Oakland, California, it has recently been discovered. A warrant wasn’t needed, but the microphones allowed the government to secretly record and monitor private conversations during the period between March 2010 and January 2011.
This information was revealed to the local press by Jeff Harp, a security analyst and former FBI special agent. The microphones had been hidden in locations such as light fixtures and near bus stops. It was apparently part of an investigation into San Mateo real estate investors and their involvement in fraud and bid rigging.
“An agent can’t just go out and grab a recording device and plant it somewhere without authorization from a supervisor or special agent in charge,” Harp said, indicating that the hidden microphones were part of an organized investigation. It seems the government is planning to use the recordings as evidence in court against the investors.
But now that the information on the microphones has comes to light, the attorneys for the real estate investors are trying to have the recordings thrown out, as they argue that conversations “in a public place does not mean that the individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy…private communication in a public place qualifies as a protected ‘oral communication’.”