back to article Who's come to fix your broadband? It may be a Fed in disguise. Without a search warrant

A Nevada court has ruled FBI agents can dress up as ISP repairmen to blag their way into a suspect's home without a search warrant – but must tell the courts about it when they do. The ruling stems from a case brought by the Feds against Malaysian poker player Wei Seng Phua and his son, whom the agency accused of running an …

  1. Ragequit

    Very slippery slope...

    Still the ring leader's mistake was letting the fake technician in to the house. It's a worrisome trend but anyone with a bit of common sense is going to be suspicious of any utility or service proactively dispatching a repairman to a home. I mean it's an uphill battle to even get someone out in the same week. Though most of the time you're simply told that there's a service outage in your area.

    I wonder if the guy had refused them access if they would have stood down? Or would they have forced their way in? I wonder if the intended precedence is for hotels only and not private residences? Well they probably had no intended distinction.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Very slippery slope...

      It was a hotel room - are you going to stop a repairman that claims to have been sent by the hotel to your room?

      1. Frumious Bandersnatch

        Re: Very slippery slope...

        are you going to stop a repairman that claims to have been sent by the hotel to your room?

        If he's there to fix the porn, probably not.

        If the feds had used that simple explanation they wouldn't have to learn any telco lingo at all.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Very slippery slope...

      Who said the repairmen just showed up? Maybe they waited for the guys to call the front desk and ask them to send someone up before sending them? Even if they did, it would be easy to argue that the hotel provided monitoring the state of the connection as a service. Vegas hotels bend over backwards for high rollers (whether they bet a lot or just spend a lot) so that would not make me think twice if I was in their situation.

      Though you'd think they could have dug up a couple FBI guys who actually knew tech so they didn't have to fake it...

      1. Ragequit

        Re: Very slippery slope...

        Touche. I might have jumped the gun a bit. It's easy to be overly sensitive with the feds so quick to abuse their powers for everything. And as you say they could have intercepted the service call.

    3. Michael Habel

      Re: Very slippery slope...

      The way I read it...

      1) Someone alerted the Feds. (Now gee I wonder who that could've been?)

      2) Feds didn't have jack to go on

      3) The Casino + Feds hatch a Cunning Scheme, whereby the Casino cut the Lines, and likely were told to contact the "In-House" ISP Repair Service.

      4) ????

      5) PROFIT!

      1. Intractable Potsherd

        Re: Very slippery slope...

        I am also very uncomfortable that gambling comes under the same heading as terrorism, and extreme porn in the minds of the law enforcement agencies. Even to me, who thinks the war on stuff has gone waaaay too far, there is a significant difference between "stuff that might lead to death or disablement" and "stuff that helps people lose money".

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Very slippery slope...

          Captain Renault of Las Vegas Police dept: I'm shocked... shocked to find that gambling is going on in there.

          Manager of Ceasers Palace: Your winnings sir.

        2. Tom 13

          Re: very uncomfortable that gambling comes under

          In the US gambling on this order of magnitude is always associated with The Mob, i.e. breaking people's legs, machine guns, and murder for hire. In Vegas, the mob had enough influence in government that their practices got legalized. Yeah, people like Trump have tried to clean it up, but NYC/Jersey would be the next city after Vegas most commonly associated with The Mob by US citizens. So over here it is tightly linked to "stuff that might lead to death or disablement".

      2. Mark 65

        Re: Very slippery slope...

        No matter what the bought and paid for Judge states this seems even to a layman like an illegal search. Search warrant applied for on the basis of what you saw whilst pretending to be someone else after deliberately cutting off the internet. If that's not a breach then America's slippery slope just got Teflon coated.

  2. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

    You ask for some hardlines and some computer equipment. Someone thinks this is "suspicious". Then you get checked up and raided? Wut?

    What happened to "innocent unless proven guilty?" Surely there has to be some pretty legitimate grounds for suspicion before you lie your way into someone's home (rented or not!). Using lies to get in to someone's home to see if they are doing anything that might be illegal enough to investigate sounds a lot like fishing to me. Hmm...

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon

      "A search warrant is never validated by what its execution recovers."

      and the Judge agreed, amazingly.

    2. scrubber

      What you're forgetting...

      ... is that this is a casino in Nevada.

      The casino staff informed authorities who couldn't get a warrant so lied their way to get enough evidence/probable cause for a warrant, then lied on said warrant about how the evidence was obtained.

      So the Nevada court is OK with all of that, except the bit where the judge was butthurt by (the concept of a judge) being lied to when signing the warrant.

    3. Eddy Ito

      You ask for some hardlines and some computer equipment. Someone thinks this is "suspicious". Then you get checked up and raided? Wut?

      In a Vegas casino? It probably triggered the 'potentially cutting into the casino's revenue' alarm and the casino's first call nowadays is to the cops. It wasn't that long ago the call would have gone to have the house rules explained by Johnny "the arm" and "three finger" Louie.

      1. Oninoshiko

        "In a Vegas casino? It probably triggered the 'potentially cutting into the casino's revenue' alarm and the casino's first call nowadays is to the cops. It wasn't that long ago the call would have gone to have the house rules explained by Johnny "the arm" and "three finger" Louie."

        They still do, the arm just has a badge now...

    4. ParaHandy

      Up-vote for "unless proven guilty". The common mis-quote of "until proven guilty" implies, incorrectly, that proof of guilt is inevitable.

    5. Robert Helpmann??

      What happened to "innocent unless proven guilty?"

      This is more a matter of probable cause rather than of having the assumption of guilt (it was a search, not a trial). Still, I cannot for the life of me see either how there was sufficient evidence for probable cause or that the means used should be considered reasonable to gain access without a warrant. Of course, I am not a lawyer, but if you have to have a legal expert to differentiate between what is a reasonable expectation of privacy and what is not, there would seem to be a problem.

      My guess is that this or a similar method will be tried again but will most likely cause the case to overturned if it goes to a jury trial or a federal appellate court.

  3. willi0000000

    one might think that given the hundreds of years (well, just two and a fraction here on the left side) that law enforcement has operated under the 'rule of law' that they might have learned to obey the laws that restrict what they are allowed to do.

    it seems that lately it has become so easy to get a search warrant over here that they don't think they even have to give a reason any more.

    [bet the last time was the last time anybody goes to Judge Leen for a warrant]

    1. Gray

      Keep a pet judge handy

      it seems that lately it has become so easy to get a search warrant over here that they don't think they even have to give a reason any more.

      Any US police agency (local, state, federal) worth its name keeps a pet judge handy. Now that most judges are elected, it looks really good for their "tough on crime" creds. All they ask is a bit of restraint: it's never good for a cop to embarrass the judge. But wait! That's what the prosecuting attorney is for ... to shield the judge from some stupid cop's aggregious screwups!

      1. Swarthy Silver badge

        Re: Keep a pet judge handy

        It's worse than that. Over here there are basically 24-hour call centers of 'judges' that can issue warrants; there's not a lot else these para-judges can do, I don't think they are even authorized to perform marriages, but they are on shifts so that the cops don't ever have to "wake up the judge" to get a warrant, they just call the 1-800-WARRANT hotline.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Keep a pet judge handy

          "they just call the 1-800-WARRANT hotline."

          It's not been outsourced to an overseas call centre yet?

  4. Andrew Punch

    Still Better than Comcast

    On the plus side they are probably better at fixing problems than the contractors who work for telcos

    1. Ragequit

      Re: Still Better than Comcast

      1) Contractor resets the modem. No luck.

      2) Contractor resets your off the shelf firewall. Nope. -Or-

      2) Contractor looks around in confusion completely unaware that you can in fact roll your own firewall. Aka he's staring at the PC you've setup as a firewall and he's treating it like alien technology. No Dice.

      3) Contractor phones in and asks them to reprovision the line while ineffectually messing with diagnostic software on his laptop that reports that there is nothing wrong with the line. He's stumped and tells you he'll have to escalate your ticket up to his manager and lets himself out.

      I think this is 90% of major ISP's these days. It once took me three service calls to a cable provider over two weeks before they finally sent out an actual employee who ran a completely new line from the street to the house. It fixed my latency and dropped packets... for a while.

      1. MarkA

        Re: Still Better than Comcast

        I recently had a Comcast guy call me to say he was coming to fix my internet.

        I have FiOS.

  5. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

    Not enough details

    Was the original ruse qualified as an "undercover operation" and was the problem that when they requested a warrant they didn't tell the judge that the suspicion arose as a result of the said "undercover operation"?

    I suppose I could possibly understand the logic behind all this if undercover operations in general don't require a priori validation from a judge. it also seems relevant that they did it with full co-operation of the property's owner (the hotel), and, in fact, on the owner's request. It stands to reason that the hotel may have something to say about (and maybe bear some responsibility for) activities in their rooms/villas. It is not clear to me how much suspicion the guests caused and what information was passed to the Feds before they decided to look around.

    The relevant bit is how sweeping or limited the ruling is: whether, in the judge's view, the situation would be different if, say, someone's neighbours alerted the Feds that some heavy-duty computer equipment was delivered to a residential property. If not, I'd consider that a problem. But this is not clear from the article.

  6. P. Lee

    Not cool

    What exactly is the requirement to get a warrant for? Why do we require the police to get warrants? As far as I can tell, its to stop the police abusing their search powers. I don't think cutting utilities first is an indicator that the police are not abusing their power, so why does it negate the need for a warrant?

    Why not extend this idea and cut off people's water or electricity. They'll never need warrants ever again for anything.

    This kind of thing might work once, but it endangers the lives of field service personnel. Did your internet go out just before your multi-million dollar drug ring got busted? Well, I don't fancy the chances of that technician (who's face is on your gate security footage) surviving very long, even if he had nothing to do with it.

    Get a warrant. Do it properly.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not cool

      So... they can cut the internet service with the hotel's co-operation and pose and repair techs.

      The next logical step?

      Cut the power to a private house (with the power company's co-operation), pose as repair techs, find evidence, then get a warrant to bust them.

  7. Michael Habel

    The BGGEST MISTAKE that these Asscowns made

    Was to do this on Casino Property.... Now I wonder who it was that tipped of the Federalizes?

    1. Greg J Preece

      Re: The BGGEST MISTAKE that these Asscowns made

      You do recall the part of the article where these "asscowns" were found not guilty, yes?

  8. auburnman

    The story not being covered here is that the FBI thought they could get away with submitting a warrant with "false and misleading statements" after the fact. How serious were the false statements, is there any body that has real oversight over the FBI?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    his raised suspicion among the staff

    oh dear, large screens and multiple laptops. Who knows what terror cell they might have wanted to set up? Did they also order an unusually large number of printers and downloaded multiple copies of google earth? Lots of cleaning up liquid?

    In the end it was a mere case of illegal gambling, I'm relieved to hear.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: his raised suspicion among the staff

      They were setting up an operation to relieve punters of money. Something to which casino operators would have deep moral objections.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can someone just clarify US Law....

    ..this was the property of the Casino.

    The casino thought something odd was going on, therefore invited the police into the property.

    Do you actually need a warrant in this case?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Can someone just clarify US Law....

      Love how I get a downvote for asking for clarification.

    2. User McUser

      Re: Can someone just clarify US Law....

      Do you actually need a warrant in this case?

      The 4th amendment protects your person, your home, and your "papers and effects" against unreasonable search and seizure. When you are renting (even transiently) the rental location becomes your "home" for such purposes.

      It's hard to say if the FBI acted correctly here; I suspect that they did, though it's a bit shady. From what I gather, they basically put a guy in there as an "undercover" agent to see if they could witness anything illegal going on. But what exactly did the agent pretending to be the repair guy *do*? Did he access the alleged criminal's computers in any way, especially without express consent? Sending the agent in to witness any "plain sight" crime is one thing - to get him or her in the room so as to poke around on the computers to find evidence? Sorry, you can't do that without a warrant.

    3. Tom 13

      Re: Can someone just clarify US Law....

      It depends.

      And that's the biggest issue with the legal system as it actually works in the US today. You can't actually KNOW the law until you've gone to court, a jury has decided, and a judge has ruled.

      To some extent even though you're transient, it is a home. To a greater extent than your standard apartment/house/flat long term rental the hotel retains significant rights including letting the police in. But exactly where a given case falls is likely to depend more on the judge's political leanings than anything actually related to the rule of law.

      1. User McUser

        Re: Can someone just clarify US Law....

        To a greater extent than your standard apartment/house/flat long term rental the hotel retains significant rights including letting the police in.

        Stoner v. California disagrees - the hotel cannot let the police in to search your room without a warrant or exigent circumstances/probable cause.

  11. Rick Giles

    Simple solution

    Any one that you don't know must sign an affidavit to the effect that they are who they say they are and if it turns out they are not, bring them up on criminal charges. Starting with trespassing, but this would only apply to your personal property (house/business).

  12. Nash

    "they asked ISP's who told them what to say and what to check....."

    ...."have you checked your microfilter?"

    ....."Have you tried rebooting it"

    "Special Agent Kowalski, our work here is done"

    1. Isendel Steel

      Re: "they asked ISP's who told them what to say and what to check....."

      That last line needs one of these..

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Police fraud...

    To the undercover argument, that would mean gaining their trust, infiltrating their operation by becoming a part of it and observing what they are doing. This is decidedly NOT what the police did. They created a situation (set up), posed as repairmen (fraud), then used the fraudulently obtained evidence to justify a warrant. This kind of behaviour can not be tolerated.

    I don't envy the police their job, but I demand that they hold themselves to higher standards than the criminals.

  14. Runty Dog

    Badges? We don't need no steekin' badges!

    My, my, how things have changed. In my youth, no one at any casino would have invited ANY member of the 'G' into a casino. (In the past, the casino management would have handled this issue inhouse by strenously objecting to the competion, and the buzzards would find a fresh repast in the desert.)

    It's private property. Owner requests law enforcement to enter property and check out suspicious activity. No warrant needed.

    FBI agents failed to inform (tame?) judge of visit and evidence gathering (of unknown type, amount, etc) in the sworn affidavit for the warrant.

    Judge recognizes the defect in the affidavit (probably after it was pointed out by a very expensive, but thurough defense attorney), and issues ruling.

    Law enforcement takes note, and modifies it's behaviour appropriately (judge crossed off of 'tame' list).

    BTW who benefited? The original perp walked, the perp's competition was rolled up, convicted & evicted, and the casino looks bad because it can't/won't keep confidential it's clientele's activities.

    1. Tom 13

      Re: Badges? We don't need no steekin' badges!

      NEVER steal from the House. And that's what the perps, even the one who is still free for the moment, did. They're lucky the casino did call the police instead of Guido. His solutions tend to be, ... more permanent.

  15. casaloco


    Wait... so now you can use evidence from an illegal search in court... to get a search warrant for a search?

  16. Tubz Bronze badge

    Can't have anybody running a gambling den in Las Vegas unless you have the mob as partners and paid of the authorities !

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I think that, in the eyes of the government, the greatest crime here was attempting to avoid paying tax.

  18. PAW

    what's a warrant?

    One evening I opened my front door to find three police who said they were responding to a 911 hangup call. 'Not from here' I said, 'my wife and I have been preparing dinner and neither of us have touched the phone.' Nonetheless said the policeman, we must enter and examine the premise. I asked what would happen if they noticed a small pile of drugs while they were searching for a victim. The policeman said they would ignore it as that wasn't the purpose of the visit. 'Right', I thought, as I stepped aside. They entered, searched, and left.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't understand

    What's wrong with simply sniffing the broadband traffic as a starting point?

    If the casino wants its cut of the action then surely some judicious T's&C's in the Rental agreement would sort that out. No direct external broadband installation allowed in the premises, but you can have as much of our bandwidth as you want, you do realize however that it will be subject to an x minute delay filter to eliminate any commercial advantage, and because it is going through our servers we cannot guarantee the privacy of traffic..

  20. izak69


    This country may as well be called "United Police States of America" being that every single day the long & corrupt arm of the law/govt is steady up in our arse.

  21. DXMage

    Hail the surveillance state

    Bow down to the evil overlords. The only thing left is to either die free or die in chains. But being "civilized" means that we the people will do nothing about it. It doesn't matter who is elected to office they are all corrupt to the core. The FBI, NSA, CIA, DHS, FIS, KGB, FAPSI, BSI, GCHQ, GCSB, Unit 8200 and 3PLA are all evil to the core. With the possible exception of a VERY few individuals should be considered rotten and evil to a man. Those in charge of these organizations and more are charged with working to surveil the world's population. They firmly believe that any means necessary to accomplish this is fine and that their mission trumps any personal rights or freedoms.

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