03:14 GMT +313 November 2019
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    Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI) inside the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington, DC.

    Illegal: Judge Throws Out Evidence From FBI Agents Posing as Cable Guys

    © AFP 2019 / MANDEL NGAN / FILES
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    A court in Las Vegas threw out evidence collected by the FBI, who turned off the cable at a property in order to gain entry by posing as the cable technician.

    A federal court in Las Vegas has thrown out evidence collected by the FBI after their agents switched off the internet service to a defendant's hotel room, before pretending to be the repairmen for the service and at the same time conduct a secret search of the property.

    The case against Paul Phua, who challenged the evidence on constitutional grounds, is likely to stop after the decision, in which the judge ruled the warrantless search of the property to have been unconstitutional, and the evidence therefore inadmissible, since Phua's consent to the search "was not voluntary."

    In defense of the FBI's actions, the government had argued that their ruse did not render Phua's consent involuntary, since DSL is not an essential service, and the situation was not an emergency.

    Lawyers for Phua hailed the decision as a landmark ruling: "This is a monumental ruling protecting Americans' privacy in the modern age,'' said attorney Thomas Goldstein. "We are very grateful that Judge Gordon recognized the breadth of the government's misconduct."

    The defendant, Paul Phua, had been indicted on allegations of taking part in an illegal gambling business taking bets on the 2014 World Cup, which officers believed was being operated out of three luxury villas at Caesar's Palace Hotel and Casino.

    "Allowing law enforcement to engage in this conduct would eviscerate the warrant requirement. 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," said District Judge Andrew P Gordon in his ruling.

    Judge Gordon also referred to previous cases in which agents had used similar ruses to gain entry to a property. In one, evidence was ruled admissible after a defendant invited undercover officers into his home to negotiate the sale of illegal sea otter pelts, where they then saw cocaine on the table.

    However, the government was prevented from using evidence gained in searches after agents posed as workers from a gas company checking for leaks, and in another case as police officers looking for a missing child. The court found that in these cases, "public policy concerns, together with the police conduct in creating a false grave emergency to obtain consent, could not be considered 'the product of an essentially free and unconstrained choice.'"

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    court, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Las Vegas
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