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US: Contrasting rulings on eavesdropping in bid-rigging trials

 |  August 2, 2016

Insisting that some degree of privacy survives in an era of technology, a federal judge barred the FBI on Monday from using evidence of conversations that agents secretly recorded outside the San Mateo County Courthouse during an investigation of alleged bid-rigging.

“The government has utterly failed to justify a warrantless electronic surveillance program that recorded private conversations spoken in hushed tones by judges, attorneys and court staff” as well as the five targets of the investigation, said U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer of San Francisco.

His ruling comes only 10 days after a contrasting decision by Chief U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton of Oakland, who upheld FBI recordings of conversations among defendants charged with bid-rigging at the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland and the Contra Costa County Courthouse in Martinez.

Hamilton said the defendants in those cases communicated openly with up to 12 people at a time and spoke loudly enough that bystanders could have heard them. However, Breyer says that the defendants in San Mateo County talked in whispers and took other steps to keep their discussions private.

The five men who were the FBI’s targets in San Mateo County were charged in October 2014 with conspiring to drive down prices on foreclosed properties at auctions held outside the Redwood City Courthouse in 2009 and 2010 by agreeing to stop bidding at certain levels, and then to share their savings.

Full Content: SF Gate

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