Privacy SOS

FBI reportedly shuts internet, impersonates repairmen to spy on hotel occupants

You've likely heard that the government has gotten caught impersonating people a lot over the past couple of weeks. The DEA was found to have impersonated a young woman by creating a fake Facebook profile using images they harvested off a confiscated cell phone. The FBI impersonated AP by sending a surveillance target what looked like a regular news link, but which really installed malware on the target's computer when he clicked. The CIA infamously got busted impersonating a Senate Select Intelligence Committee staffer in order to interfere with the committee's investigation into CIA torture.

Now there's another case. This one maybe even more bizarre than the others. The Hill reports:

A lawsuit alleges that FBI agents shut off internet access to three Las Vegas villas and then posed as repairman to gain access to the houses.

The agency was investigating the residents of the houses — located at a luxury hotel — for their suspected involvement in online sports betting.

Defense attorneys for the men who were charged in the betting case said FBI agents used the tactic despite the opposition of an assistant U.S. attorney.

Cops and FBI agents don't need to get a warrant to come into your house if you invite them inside. In that way, law enforcement is like vampires. If a police officer knocks at your door and you let her in, she can arrest you if she sees drugs on the counter. You invited her in, giving up a sizable chunk of your Fourth Amendment rights.

The FBI exploited that loophole here by working with staff at the hotel to shut off the internet, dressing up like internet repair guys, and gaining entrance to the targets' rooms by claiming they were there to fix the 'problem'. It worked. The agents—impersonating repairmen—were invited inside, where they secretly filmed evidence that was later used to obtain arrest warrants.

Now we know we can't necessarily trust the guys who say they are from Comcast—in addition to anyone on Facebook, well-established media organizations, and senate employees—to be who they say they are. Who doesn't the federal government impersonate?

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.