FBI Warrantlessly Attaching GPS to Cars to Track Suspects
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GPS. It can be invaluable in helping you to get from Point A to Point B (of course, GPS can also lead you to a near death experience). However, it turns out that GPS can now be surreptitiously attached to the outside of your car, and used to track you – without a warrant – by the FBI (and who knows to what other law enforcement agencies this may extend).

That was the – interesting – lesson learned by Yasir Afifi, a Bay area college student, when he and his mechanic discovered a GPS unit that the FBI had, without his knowledge, placed on the underside of his car. Afifi apparently had no reason to suspect the he was a suspect in, well, anything – other than perhaps being suspected of being Muslim.


After posting pictures of the device online, where others confirmed it being a GPS tracking device, Afifi found the nice men from the FBI at his door, demanding that he give it back. (What poor sports they are!)

FBI Special Agent Joseph Schadler confirmed that it was an FBI GPS tracker, and that FBI agents dropped in on Afifi to retrieve the tracker, but why they were tracking Afifi is still a mystery. Said Schadler, “It is not our policy to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation anyway, and we don’t comment on sources or techniques or methods or anything like that.”

Abdo Alwareeth, another northern California man, found a similar device on his car a few years ago. Says Alwareeth, who, while originally from Yemen, has lived in the U.S. for forty years, and has never been in trouble with the law (unless you count a traffic ticket), “Why have I been singled out? Let them tell me, ‘We are singling you out because you are an Arab and a Muslim and that’s it.’ That’s what I want to know.”

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In Alwareeth’s case, he says, it was local law enforcement who reclaimed the GPS tracking device he’d found attached to his car, but that they claim that the device did not actually belong to them.

Now he and his wife check their car every day to make sure that no device has been planted there again. “This is how they make us feel, like we are being tracked. Tracked for what?” says Alwareeth.

While we may not know what the FBI sees in Afifi and Alwareeth, what we do know is that this has opened up a Pandora’s box of worms (to intentionally mix metaphors), at the heart of which is the question “Can someone trail you with GPS without a warrant?”

 

And, this may shock you, but at least one Federal court has said that “Yes, it’s ok.”

The 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals – which is the Federal court for the area in which both Afifi and Alwareeth live, has said that it is ok for law enforcement agencies – such as the FBI – to attach GPS tracking devices to vehicles without a warrant.

You see, the way that the FBI pitches it is that it is not that different from having one of their agents following someone around (tailing them) – it is, they say, just another version of physical surveillance.

And so, the Court’s ruling is based, at least in part, on the general rule that surveilling someone in a public place does not require a warrant. And your car, in general, is out in public.

Except for when it’s not.

And therein lies at least one rub.

Indeed, recently another Federal court, in D.C., held that “longer-term” GPS tracking may require a search warrant.

So, courts are split, and so are hairs, leaving U.S. citizens in that murky grey limbo through which slips so many violations of privacy and civil liberties, undetected.

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2 thoughts on “FBI Warrantlessly Attaching GPS to Cars to Track Suspects
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  1. Sorry! I forgot to click for “Notify by email for follow up comments” to my previous one!

    This SOLVE is even funnier:
    short end of the stick.

    EVERYONE Should use these human verifiers instead of the stupid “capcha” things I can never read due to by poor vision.

    Anne, how can we make “capcha” illegal, and force people to use this system, instead? Please tell everyone that this is a far more user friendly and logical system to check out my humanity!

  2. Those of us in our ’60’s remember movies, radio, and TV stories of people, (g’v’t, private eyes, spies, and counter spies) placing tiny radio transmitters underneath cars and using “triangulation” to follow them. In fact, using GPS is far more difficult, requires fairly clear weather (because clouds can block GPS) and involves fewer steps and people, … and chances of being “discovered” and “caught”.
    It’s as old as radio itself and doesn’t require as much technology.
    Hope that helps you sleep better tonight!

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