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Student Sues FBI For Planting GPS Tracker 586

Posted by timothy
from the jiffy-lube-should-check-for-these-things-by-default dept.
GabriellaKat submits this snippet from Yahoo! news, writing "'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.' Now he has decided to sue the FBI. This story was also covered last year when he found the tracking device."
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Student Sues FBI For Planting GPS Tracker

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 04, 2011 @08:44AM (#35378550)

    The question surrounding GPS tracking has been a topic for discussion for a few years now. Last year when this took place, I believe that a California court stated that it was equivalent to an officer tailing an individual, and a vehicle that was on public property could have the device attached to it without a warrant. According to the article, a Federal Appeals court over ruled this and claimed it unconstitutional.

    From the article: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110303/ap_on_re_us/us_gps_tracking_warrants
    "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.""

    I agree with the student and his lawyers, I too feel this is unconstitutional, but IANAL. If his actions are truly suspicious and worthy of tracking, it should have been easy to get a judge to sign a warrant for the tracking. But what the government is doing is building intelligence to help prevent future terrorist attacks. Since the signing of the Patriot Act, many of our civil liberties have been stripped from us and our own government no longer sees fit to work within the confines of the law that has been built off of the interpretation of our Constitution. The govt. is trying to tie this young man to a terrorist cell, and they don't have the evidence to support it.

  • Law Student Analysis (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Thakandar2 (260848) on Friday March 04, 2011 @09:42AM (#35379144)
    From the article: "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." -This is not a reassuring trend. If the objection was that it was vague and unworkable, that'd be fine. But their objection seems to be that it disallows them from using the GPS without a warrant - which is not fine. Voting for change wasn't supposed to mean "Change my ideals back to what the previous people did."

    Also: ". . . 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" and earlier stated, the agents "demanded their property back." I might just be a first year law student, but if you leave your property in my car, and make no claims to it and abandon it, then it could be mine. Also, the agents only "pulled him over as he drove away from his apartment" probably to avoid the whole warrant issue of collecting it from his apartment. Yet, any time law enforcement shows up, it is my understanding that you don't have to give them any information besides the identify statutes require, like name and maybe ID if your state says so. So I'd sit in the parking lot, and not invite them into my home and tell them I don't want them to search my car without some kind of pretense. Also, I'd turn my smart phone recorder on since we were having the discussions in public.

    Perhaps they could have just followed him with a tail to get all the GPS type info, or put a drone over him. I don't think there's an expectation of privacy for the outside of your car, but if it was found in the engine compartment, that might be different. I don't like adding to the car with a device... that seems like some kind of alteration, or trespass to chattels (personal property). Government tort exemptions probably apply for this kind of thing, whether it's constitutional or not.

    I'm much more concerned with the adding a device to the personal property than I am the expectation of privacy claim. IF I wanted to follow someone all day, I could collect all the information about their whereabouts.
  • An interesting quote (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Drakkenmensch (1255800) on Friday March 04, 2011 @09:55AM (#35379288)

    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."

    So the FBI admits they're doing a lot of GPS tracking without warrants.

  • by Totenglocke (1291680) on Friday March 04, 2011 @10:18AM (#35379494)

    The problem with your source is that it confirms what the OP said. From EB - "Crusades, military expeditions, beginning in the late 11th century, that were organized by Western Christians in response to centuries of Muslim wars of expansion."

    Thank you for proving two things - 1) that the OP was telling the truth about Muslims provoking the Crusades and 2) that you're not too bright and have no clue what you're talking about, merely parroting what the TV tells you to say.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 04, 2011 @10:59AM (#35380006)

    I live in a law dorm (not the one in law school) and when this first came up a couple of us (students and non-students) did some research. Also, my gf did some research in the area for a paper at one point.

    but if it was found in the engine compartment, that might be different. I don't like adding to the car with a device... that seems like some kind of alteration, or trespass to chattels (personal property).

    Nope. Well, it depends. In California (I believe the whole of the 9th Circuit, actually), as long as your car is publicly accessible, they can attach anything they want without a warrant. "Publicly Accessible" includes in your driveway, on your property. If you have a gate up, then it's a problem. But if you live in an apartment building and park your car in the parking lot, they can attach whatever, whenever. And if you do park your car in your locked garage every night, they just have to wait until you park it in a publicly accessible parking garage for work (even if it's a secured lot, if more than just yourself *can* access it, it's "public" for this case).

    Other circuits have ruled differently. However, the Supreme Court hasn't heard any cases to make a blanket decision.

    I might just be a first year law student, but if you leave your property in my car, and make no claims to it and abandon it, then it could be mine.

    I think we looked into this one as well, but I'm not totally sure. I seem to remember a much longer time period that you have to hold it, and that you have to make a good-faith effort at returning it. Hence the whole dropping wallets off at police stations thing. But I could be wrong about that.

    Unfortunately, as far as current case law goes, everything they did seems to be legal. I hope he sues, and I hope it changes some of that case law. Unfortunately, I don't expect it to. "Change I can believe in" has turned into "We don't wear flag lapel pins while we take your liberties away."

  • by WillAdams (45638) on Friday March 04, 2011 @11:27AM (#35380404) Homepage

    The difference is that they actually had to access a person's private property (his car) and place an unmarked device in it. Any such devices should be clearly marked as government property _and_ matched up w/ a search warrant # which is on file in the same locale as the vehicle is registered in.

    I think it would have been far more interesting if instead of removing it, the mechanic had instead:

      - rolled the car out into the public street
      - called the local police department to report a suspicious, possibly explosive device in a vehicle
      - notified the owner of the car and asked for him to coordinate things with the bomb squad

    Moreover, the biggest problem w/ warrant-less placement of such devices is that it fails the equal protection under the law test. Poor people park their cars out on public streets or on driveways --- which can apparently be accessed w/o a search-warrant, while rich people live in gated communities and have their cars stored off the street, often in garages which are pretty much inaccessible w/o a search-warrant.

    William

  • by anyGould (1295481) on Friday March 04, 2011 @12:17PM (#35381102)

    I mean seriously -- if this had happened to me, I'd have gotten rid of the thing, and claim I never knew about it, and it must have fallen off the car.

    Keep in mind that they didn't know what it was (hence why they took a picture and posted it). Then the FBI descended (and at that point it's a bad idea to claim that the item you were so curious about was thrown out and destroyed - not to mention the bloody thing was probably still broadcasting).

    Now, the *next* time someone finds one of these things on their car - there's no limit to the wackery that can ensue. Off the top of my head:

    • The obvious "attach it to a long-haul truck"
    • Stick it to a local delivery vehicle. Post office truck, pizza delivery...
    • For the more geekily inclined, if I understand the technology correctly, these gizmos are a GPS attached to a broadcaster. Which means that once you crack the case, all you need is a few moments outage (say, tunnel, underground parking) to swap the input from the actual GPS chip to something that now shows you "driving" on whatever path you programmed in. (Plus, you get a free GPS chip!).

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