Government spying surveillance
Former FBI agent claims the US government has been hiding microphones in public places to record conversations.iStock

If you live in San Francisco's Bay Area, you might want to be careful what you say in the open after it was revealed the FBI has been allegedly hiding microphones in trees, under rocks and in covert nooks to record conversations of the general public.

According to former FBI agent turned security analyst Jeff Harp, recording devices are planted by the FBI as part of a government surveillance programme without public knowledge as a warrant isn't required to do it.

"They put microphones under rocks, they put microphones in trees, they plant microphones in equipment. I mean, there's microphones that are planted in places that people don't think about, because that's the intent!" reported CBS Local in San Francisco.

In one example, it was reported that agents hid microphones in a light fitting at a bus stop by a courthouse in Oakland, California to capture potentially indicting conversations. Such a plant would be perfect to record those attending court cases, and any other bus-stop talk leading to intelligence would be a bonus.

Use of recordings as evidence

The hidden bus stop spying equipment was reportedly installed without a warrant and recorded conversations between March 2010 and January 2011. Some of the captured eavesdropping is being used by the FBI in a court case attempting to expose real estate investors of fraudulent activities, however lawyers for the accused are looking to dismiss the evidence on the grounds that communication in a public place still constitutes as being private.

"Speaking in a public place does not mean that the individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy...private communication in a public place qualifies as a protected 'oral communication'... and therefore may not be intercepted without judicial authorization," a lawyer told KPIX 5 News.

With government surveillance being a hot topic at the moment the worry remains as to whether hidden microphones are still lurking in and around San Francisco. While Harp clarifies that "an agent can't just go out and grab a recording device and plant it somewhere without authorisation" it doesn't alleviate concerns that all it requires is "a supervisor or special agent in charge" to give the thumbs-up and all our secrets will be beamed to the headsets of listening authorities.