Two individuals, including a retired California Highway Patrol officer, are suing Riverside County, California, for wiretapping them and not informing them afterward, as required by law.
The claims were filed in Riverside County Superior Court by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and an affiliated legal team.
The two, “with no criminal record,” want to know why their phones were tapped. The are just “two targets of hundreds of questionable wiretaps authorized by a single judge,” Helios J. Hernandez, the organization said Thursday.
Not only were the targets never notified, they learned about the wiretap only from friends and family who had been notified, EFF explained.
“The wiretap in this case was issued over three years ago, a time when Riverside County was issuing a record number of wiretaps. In 2015, for example, the court approved 624 wiretaps, triple the number of any other state or federal courts. The targets were often out of state, resulting in hundreds of arrests nationwide. After a series of stories in USA TODAY questioned the legality of the surveillance, watchdogs said that the wiretaps likely violated federal law,” said EFF.
EFF Staff Attorney Stephanie Lacambra said there are “very real questions about the legitimacy of the warrant-approval process in Riverside County during the time when our clients were wiretapped, including questions about the behavior of the judge and the district attorney’s office.”
“The court should release information about how this wiretap was approved and why, so both our clients and the public can understand what happened during Riverside County’s massive surveillance campaign,” she said.
WND was unable to reach a county spokesman to respond to the claims.
EFF said that after the county’s activities were publicized, the number of wiretaps dropped from 640 in 2015 to 118 in 2017, and those were nearly all related to narcotics cases.
“There are so many questions about what went on with these wiretaps. And it’s only fair our clients get answers. They don’t know if they were targeted by accident, or if they were suspected of something, or on what basis the order was issued at all,” said Tina Salvato of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP, which is working with EFF. “But this is also a matter of public interest, and we hope the court sees this too.”
The lawsuit seeks a court ruling allowing the plaintiffs to inspect the files relating to the wiretap, especially since “the target was not properly noticed, never charged, and the wiretap was issued in the midst of a highly scrutinized practice of excessive amounts of wiretap authorizations being issued by a single judge.”
Now three years later, the owners of the numbers still have not been notified, or charged with anything.
“This court should grant access to the requested records to the registered owner because it is clearly in the interest of justice. Indeed, this particular wiretap presents an especially compelling case for oversight … because of the questionable circumstances surrounding its issuance,” EFF said in the court filing.