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Student sues FBI over GPS tracking

By NEDRA PICKLER
March 4, 2011

 

In this Jan. 5, 2011 photo shows Yasir Afifi at his home in San Jose, Calif. Afifi says he's never done anything that should raise the attention of federal law enforcement is suing the FBI for secretly putting a GPS on his car. Afifi says a mechanic doing an oil change in October discovered the device stuck under his car with magnets. Afifi says two days later, agents showed up outside his apartment and demanded their property back. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

A community college student who says he’s never done anything that should attract the interest of federal law enforcement officials filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the FBI for secretly putting a GPS tracking device on his car.

Yasir Afifi, 20, says a mechanic doing an oil change on his car in October discovered the device stuck with magnets between his right rear wheel and exhaust. They weren’t sure what it was, but Afifi had the mechanic remove it and a friend posted photos of it online to see whether anyone could identify it. Two days later, Afifi says, agents wearing bullet-proof vests pulled him over as he drove away from his apartment in San Jose, Calif., and demanded their property back.

Afifi’s lawsuit, filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, claims the FBI violated his civil rights by putting the device on his car without a warrant. His lawyers say Afifi, who was born in the United States, was targeted because of his extensive ties to the Middle East — he travels there frequently, helps support two brothers who live in Egypt, and his father was a well-known Islamic-American community leader who died last year in Egypt.

FBI Spokesman Michael Kortan declined to discuss the lawsuit or the agency’s investigation into Afifi, but said, “The FBI conducts investigations under well-established Department of Justice and FBI guidelines that determine what investigative steps or techniques are appropriate. Those guidelines also ensure the protection of civil and constitutional rights.”

Afifi, who is a business marketing major at Mission College and works as a computer salesman, said at a news conference to announce the suit that the agents never gave him a clear answer as to why he was being monitored.

“I’m sure I have done nothing wrong to provoke anyone’s interest,” Afifi said, although he noted that his family is from Egypt, he’s a young man and he makes a lot of calls overseas. “So I’m sure I fit their profile.”

Judges have disagreed over whether search warrants should be required for GPS tracking. Afifi’s lawyers say they are filing this lawsuit in hopes of a decision saying that any use of tracking devices without a warrant in the United States is unconstitutional.

The federal appeals court in the Washington circuit where Afifi’s case was filed ruled in August that the collection of GPS data amounts to a government “search” that required a warrant. The Obama administration asked the court to change its ruling, calling the decision “vague and unworkable” and arguing that investigators will lose access to a tool they now use “with great frequency.”

The lawsuit says the agents who showed up to collect the device were “hostile,” threatening to charge Afifi if he didn’t immediately cooperate and refusing his request to have a lawyer present. The suit also says agents showed they knew private details about his life, such as which restaurants he dined at, the new job he’d just obtained and his plans to travel abroad.

“At first I was really confused,” Afifi said at the news conference, adding that he finally decided to turn over the GPS. “I did give it back to them after a lot of pressure.”

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press

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2 Responses to Student sues FBI over GPS tracking

  1. woody188

    March 4, 2011 at 10:41 am

    Unfortunately, the 9th Circuit ruled recently that unless you have a fence, house your vehicle in garage, and post no trespassing notices, you have no expectation of privacy from government surveillance. Of course a dissenting opinion pointed out this effectively gave the rich more protections than the poor, but our government wouldn’t let a little matter like equal treatment under the law get in the way of their drug prosecution business.

  2. Carl Nemo

    March 4, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    This is an amazing story especially the part where the agents had the hubris to ‘demand’ their property back. It would seem in the interest of covering their tracks these ‘boneheads’ would have simply written off the tracking device with the agency using plausible deniability as to ownership. They should have realized this was going to end up in a lawsuit. Their excuse could be that the placing of the device was a case of vehicle misidentity; a simple mistake and paid some damages. I hope Yasir Afifi prevails in the courts over this type of over the top nonsense.

    Every so often cases make it to the Supreme Court that are settled in favor of the Constitution, rare, but it does happen like the recent one concerning “free speech” for protesters hassling funeral participants. Yes, I realize the homophobes are a disgusting lot by engaging in such tasteless activity, but without rulings like this on occasion it allows Constitutionally erosive actions on the part of the lower courts that eventually turn America into an absolute police state. So evidently ‘free speech’ counts concerning funerals, but not when someone like Ray McGovern peacefully confronts SOS Hillary Clinton during one of her propagandist, ‘feelgood’ “Big Sister” diatribes. He simply stood, turning his back to her. He was in the very back row of the presentation and not causing a stir in proximity to her not so ‘queenly’ feet. / : |

    Thanks Woody for pointing out the fact that unless people’s property is secure it’s subject to such activity which should be a no-no without a warrant based on probable cause. Folks best remember this fact relative to what they pitch in their garbage cans and then leave them on the curb for pickup. A number of years ago cases hit the courts where evidence was seized from the supects garbage cans. This too was tested in the courts and the jaded judicials came up with that once you move it off your property line to the curb, sidewalk or whatever it’s public property including that of law inforcement, no warrant required.

    Carl Nemo **==