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Beware of Aggressive Undercover Operations

The New York Times recently did an extensive piece on the drastically expanding use of undercover operations by the federal government – often very aggressive responses for non-violent crimes. Several aspects of these operations should be alarming to the public, as they further undermine confidence in the integrity of law enforcement at a time when such confidence is already plummeting to all-time lows.

Why are Undercover Operations Increasing?

The government justifies these operations by citing heightened terrorism concerns in a post-9/11 world. However, the Times observed that the majority of the undercover operations are not terrorism-related, but instead are focused on other criminal activity such as gambling, online sex solicitations, illegal sales of alcohol and cigarettes, and healthcare or financial fraud: “[C]hanges in policies and tactics over the last decade have resulted in undercover teams run by agencies in virtually every corner of the federal government, according to officials, former agents and documents.” Medicare investigators have posed as patients to dig up evidence against health care providers. The IRS uses undercover agents to find tax evaders. Near the Supreme Court, undercover officers dress as student protestors in order to identify suspicious or dangerous activity. The Department of Education even uses undercover operatives to spy on federally funded programs in the hopes of finding evidence of financial fraud.

Most recently and infamously, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) created a fake Facebook account of a young woman in an effort to lure drug suspects with embarrassing and scantily clad photos. This was done without her consent or knowledge. In fact, the victim did not even know about the Facebook page for months until acquaintances pointed out the photos to her. The DEA was able to create the page from photos they retrieved after seizing her cell phone earlier in the year. Originally, the Department of Justice defended the DEA’s actions as a tool in a legitimate criminal investigation, but due to public outcry, retracted its support.

As evidenced by the fake Facebook story, oversight of these undercover operations is minimal at best. Financial oversight is completely lacking, resulting in authorities racking up significant expenses–which they pay for with assets acquired in other undercover seizures, triggering a vicious cycle of seizure dependency. Furthermore, undercover operations frequently interfere with other agency’s operations, resulting in wasted resources and multiple violations of citizens’ rights. Police have been found to use the terrorism-fighting authority granted under the Patriot Act to conduct investigations in routine criminal cases such as drug trafficking, theft, immigration offenses, and fraud suspects.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation found in a recent report that out of more than 11,000 delayed-notification requests, only 51 were for terrorism. The rest were for drug investigations. A delayed-notification request (more commonly known as “sneak and peek”), which is provided for under the Patriot Act, allows law enforcement to conduct covert searches without informing the suspect right away (often months later). Delayed notification requests are often a precursor to full-blown undercover investigations. Instead of being used only in exceptional circumstances (i.e. terrorist threat), as intended by Congress, they are being used as a part of routine police work.

It is critical that a criminal defense attorney ensure that his or her clients know their rights. Our civil liberties are consistently being eroded via aggressive police investigations and undercover sting operations. In fact, there is a good chance you will be unaware of an investigation or search into your life until well after the fact. It takes a well-versed criminal defense attorney to ensure you are not being subject to illegal intrusions by the police.

Let Me Defend You Today

Do you have a criminal case involving evidence obtained in an undercover investigation? Are you looking for a skilled attorney who can help defend your rights in court? It is encouraged that you contact an attorney as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected. Please contact Tony Moss at the Tony Moss Firm, L.L.C. to discuss these and any other criminal law matters. He has locations in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, and is prepared to put his skill and expertise to work for you.

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