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Undercover Agents Now Under the Microscope for Possible Fourth Amendment Violation

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"We hope the Court will recognize this egregious violation of personal privacy."

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Undercover agents for the FBI entered at least one Caesar's Palace hotel room in Las Vegas without a warrant, acting as cable and Internet repairmen hoping to catch a group of alleged criminals.

Photo credit: Shutterstock Photo credit: Shutterstock

Critics, however, noted that one problem with that approach is the "repairmen" might not have been needed had they not cut off Internet access to the rooms which prompted the occupants of those rooms to call them for what they were led to believe was would be "help."

Federal prosecutors wrote in a court filing late Monday night that because the occupants of the room called the hotel desk asking for Internet and cable assistance they were thereby inviting FBI undercover agents inside their hotel rooms, somehow overriding the law enforcement bureau's need for a search warrant.

"Law enforcement has long been permitted to obtain consent by posing as a confederate, business associate or service provider. In fact, the government uses ruses every day in its undercover operations, and consent obtained by such ruses is valid unless the deceit leaves the occupant with no choice but to consent to an entry. In this case, the ruse—which involved a brief interruption of DSL service for which no Fourth Amendment intrusion was necessary, and which did not interfere with the occupants' other means of Internet access—was not coercive," prosecutors wrote.

But while the feds seem confident they've built their case successfully, defense attorneys remain skeptical.

"The government now admits that agents entered private rooms using the ruse of shutting off Internet access and dressing up as technicians,” defense attorney Thomas Goldstein said.

Goldstein added that based on the government's response, agents can use similar methods to enter any home in America without a warrant –  and without suspicion.

"We hope the Court will recognize this egregious violation of personal privacy," Goldstein said.

In the Caesar's Palace opeartion, the FBI arrested Paul Phua, Darren Wai Kit Phua, Seng Chen Yong and Wai Kin Yon, all of whom are from Malaysia.

The investigation was prompted after the Malaysian guests requested a significant amount of electronic equipment and Internet connections from Caesar's Palace hotel staff. A technician later became suspicious of a possible bookmaking operation. However, FBI agents were unable to find much evidence to substantiate their suspicions after searching the rooms.

A court will hold a hearing next month on whether to dismiss the charges.

(H/T: ArsTechnica)

Follow Jon Street (@JonStreet) on Twitter

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