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October 13, 2010

Warrantless and Unwarranted FBI Tracking of Egyptian Student

Twenty year-old US-born half-Egyptian marketing student from California, Yasir Afifi, recently found an FBI tracking device attached to the underside of his car. Apparently he wasn’t even the primary focus of the surveillance, but happens to be the friend of someone who’s of interest to the FBI. It’s believed the friend (Khaled) is of interest due to a post he made on his blog/reddit.

Here’s one of his posts:

bombing a mall seems so easy to do. i mean all you really need is a bomb, a regular outfit so you arent the crazy guy in a trench coat trying to blow up a mall and a shopping bag. i mean if terrorism were actually a legitimate threat, think about how many fucking malls would have blown up already.. you can put a bag in a million different places, there would be no way to foresee the next target, and really no way to prevent it unless CTU gets some intel at the last minute in which case every city but LA is fucked…so…yea…now i’m surely bugged : /

To be honest, sounds like a post I could’ve written. I definitely agree with the guy. I guess the only reason I’m not being watched is because I’m not dark skinned, or from an Eastern country, or whatever other profile they rely on these days. Or maybe I am being watched and just haven’t found the tracking device yet.

About 9 days ago, they found the device (pictured below), and originally thought it was either a tracking device – or a bomb. From his description of the events, however, it sounds like they may also have been stoned at the time. A recent ruling by the Ninth Circuit in California (and 8 other states) states there is no requirement for a warrant to be obtained in order to perform this kind of tracking. They are allowed to come onto your property and plant a tracking device on your car, as you have no reasonable expectation of privacy on your driveway. Good morning Orwell.

The American Civil Liberties Union in Washington are considering using these events to challenge the Ninth Circuit’s ruling.

Now why they chose to use what looks like a Soviet-era tracker is beyond me. Maybe they ran out of the smaller non-battery-powered models that they make in this century. According to a commenter on reddit, the device is a Guardian ST820, manufactured by Cobham. Apparently these things are meant to be hard to find (despite the size), when installed properly. Surveillance Fail? The FBI have since asked for their tracker back.

Check out this Wired article for more details.

If you want to build your own affordable GPS tracker, check out this project!

[Update 8/3/2011] Yasir Afifi files lawsuit over FBI’s GPS tracking

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