The Ninth Circuit of Appeals ruled on July 20 that agents of the federal government may use a cellphone as a microphone and record the conversations overheard even when the phone itself is not being used otherwise.
This frightening bit of judicial lawmaking came as part of the decision in the case of the United States v. Oliva, 2012 WL 2948542 (9thCir. July 20, 2012).
For a bit of background, Oliva was convicted by a jury of drug-related crimes involving the distribution of methamphetmaine, cocaine, and marijuana. He appealed a decision by a district court denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained from a series of electronic surveillance orders authorizing interception of communications over cellular phones associated with him and his alleged co-conspirators.
Oliva argued that the orders authorizing these wiretaps were not standard intercept orders and did not meet the “specificity” requirement of the applicable federal law.
In its decision, the Ninth Circuit has upheld the lower court’s ruling, essentially allowing the federal government to convert cellphones into “roving bugs” so long as the government makes it clear that it will be using the target’s cellphone in that manner. Notice, the Ninth Circuit — a court created under the authority granted to Congress in Article III of the Constitution — did not throw out the matter as a violation of the defendant’s Fourth Amendment right against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Instead, it simply informed the government that it needs to get permission before doing so.
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