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Judge Chastises FBI for Listening to Too Much, But Won’t Ban All Recordings

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

A federal judge on Wednesday chastised the FBI for listening to wiretapped conversations that were private or irrelevant, calling the agency’s action “unnecessary”, “voyaeuristic” and “disgraceful.” But  he refused a request by the defense to bar all tapes from being used in an upcoming insider trading trial in Manhattan.

Defendant Craig Drimal, a former Galleon Group hedge fund trader, had asked that all tapes  be barred because the FBI listened to “scores” of  personal conversations with his wife, “some of a particularly intimate and personal nature,” according the judge’s ruling. The government is supposed to stop listening to wiretapped conversations when it determines the  talk is personal or irrelevant.

“As these eight calls illustrate, for at least portions of the wiretaps, the government failed to take appropriate steps to ensure that unnecessary intrusions into the private lives of its targets were kept to a minimum,” U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan wrote.

“While the majority of these calls were not particularly lengthy — indeed, most were under two minutes — in each of these calls it should have been apparent within seconds that the conversation was privileged and non-pertinent. As the Court stressed at the hearing, given the deeply personal nature of several of these conversations, the agents’ failure to minimize was nothing short of ‘disgraceful.'”

But Sullivan added:  “Nevertheless, viewing the wiretap as a whole, the Court cannot find that the government’s conduct was so unreasonable that it warrants the ‘drastic and excessive’ remedy of total suppression.”

“Given the wiretap’s scope and the substantial manpower needed to sustain it, the Court concludes that, on the whole, the wiretap was professionally conducted and generally well-executed,” Sullivan wrote.

Drimal’s attorney JaneAnne Murray told Reuters: “This litigation prompted the U.S. Attorneys’ Office to review its wiretap procedures. Hopefully, the deeply troubling privacy intrusion Sullivan found here will not occur again.”

A spokesperson for the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment, according to Reuters.

Read Judge’s Ruling

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