Can Cops Pose as Cable Repairmen and Search My Home?
If you see it on TV or in the movies it must be true, right? And how many times have we seen cops cut the cable, pose as the repairmen, and, once they're invited in, search the home and find the evidence they need.
Surprise! This may not be legal. According to a federal District Court judge in Las Vegas, the FBI overstepped its bounds by disconnecting the Internet to some pricey Caesar's Palace villas and sending in agents dressed as repairmen in order to gather evidence on an illegal online gambling operation. So why can't the cops do this?
The Internet Is Everywhere
Judge Andrew P. Gordon said that allowing this ruse would basically give law enforcement access to any residence, without a warrant:
"Permitting the government to create the need for the occupant to invite a third party into his or her home would effectively allow the government to conduct warrantless searches of the vast majority of residents and hotel rooms in America ... Authorities would need only to disrupt phone, Internet, cable, or other 'non-essential' service and then pose as technicians to gain warrantless entry to the vast majority of homes, hotel rooms, and similarly protected premises across America."
Considering the pervasiveness of Internet service and our reliance upon it for both work and entertainment, most of us would be begging for someone to come in and restore service. And the court found that reliance should not give police officers a free pass into our living rooms.
An Unreasonable Case
The government is normally required to get a warrant before it can search a residence, but argued in this case that it uses undercover officers posing as drug buyers or even UPS delivery persons all the time to gain entry to dwellings. But the court distinguished between those cases and sending in phony gas, electric, television, and internet repair people, saying the consent to enter the dwelling was "involuntary" because it was based on the mistaken belief of an emergency.
While there are some exceptions to the warrant requirement, courts require the search to be reasonable under the circumstances. In this case, even though the defendants ordering significant amounts of electronic gear and Internet connections to facilitate a million-dollar World Cup soccer bookmaking ring, taking the Internet away and sending in fake repairmen was just unreasonable enough to get one defendant's conviction thrown out.
- Court Finds Fake Cable Repair by FBI is an Illegal Search (Thomson Reuters Legal Solutions)
- Search and Seizure (FindLaw)
- FBI Agents Cut DSL, Posed as Repairmen to Conduct Search: Motion (FindLaw's Ninth Circuit)
- I Got 99 Problems But the 4th Amendment Ain't One (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice)
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