Arab-American student finds FBI tracking device on his car

FBI demands its return once pictures are posted on the 'Net

A 20-year-old California student says a trip to an auto repair shop led to the discovery of a GPS tracking device attached to the underside of his car, and once pictures of the device were posted to the Internet, a visit from FBI agents demanding its return.

Yasir Afifi, a native-born American whose father died in Egypt a year ago and whose brothers still live there, says this is not the first time he or his friends have drawn the interest of the FBI, but he insists that he is undeserving of such scrutiny and the circumstances of the latest episode have privacy rights advocates concerned.

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You can read the details in a Wired story here.

Now, I am of the opinion that the government has seized for itself far too expansive powers of surveillance since 9/11, that abuses of those powers have occurred, and that more are inevitable.

Which isn't to say that such is necessarily the case here, because there are gaps in the story.

We don't know whether the FBI had a warrant for this surveillance, although an ex-FBI agent quoted anonymously by Wired says he would expect that to have been the case. And, of course, even if there was a warrant we do not know whether it was granted based on the existence of genuine probable cause or was merely rubber-stamped by a judge.

But we do know this much for certain: A federal court in California this summer did rule that law enforcement can plant surveillance equipment of this type in this manner: In other words, on your car in your driveway and without a warrant ... most of the time.

There's an interesting dissection of that decision here. And you don't have to be a card-carrying member of the ACLU to be troubled by the precedent it sets.

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