10-8-2010College student finds FBI tracking device on his car
A California student got a visit from the FBI this week after he found a secret GPS tracking device on his car, and a friend posted photos of it online.
Afifi, the son of an Islamic-American community leader who died a year ago in Egypt, is one of only a few people known to have found a government-tracking device on their vehicle.
His discovery comes in the wake of a recent ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals saying it’s legal for law enforcement to secretly place a tracking device on a suspect’s car without getting a warrant, even if the car is parked in a private driveway.
Brian Alseth from the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington state contacted Afifi after seeing pictures of the tracking device posted online and told him the ACLU had been waiting for a case like this to challenge the ruling.
“This is the kind of thing we like to throw lawyers at,” Afifi said Alseth told him.
“It seems very frightening that the FBI have placed a surveillance-tracking device on the car of a 20-year-old American citizen who has done nothing more than being half-Egyptian,” Alseth told Wired.com
A reader quickly identified it as an Orion Guardian ST820 tracking device made by an electronics company called Cobham, which sells the device only to law enforcement.
The female agent, who handed Afifi a card, identified herself as Jennifer Kanaan and said she was Lebanese. She spoke some Arabic to Afifi and through the course of her comments indicated she knew what restaurants he and his girlfriend frequented. She also congratulated him on his new job. Afifi recently got laid off from his job, but on the same day was hired as an international sales manager of laptops and computers for Cal Micro in San Jose.
The agents also knew he was planning a short business trip to Dubai in a few weeks. Afifi said he often travels for business and has two teenage brothers in Egypt whom he supports financially. They live with an aunt. His U.S.-born mother, who divorced his father five years ago, lives in Arizona.
Afifi’s father, Aladdin Afifi, was a U.S. citizen and former president of the Muslim Community Association here, before his family moved to Egypt in 2003. Yasir Afifi returned to the U.S. alone in 2008, while his father and brothers stayed in Egypt, to further his education he said. He knows he’s on a federal watchlist and is regularly taken aside at airports for secondary screening.
Six months ago, a former roommate of his was visited by FBI agents who said they wanted to speak with Afifi. Afifi contacted one agent and was told the agency received an anonymous tip from someone saying he might be a threat to national security. Afifi told the agent he was willing to answer questions if his lawyer approved. But after Afifi’s lawyer contacted the agency, he never heard from the feds again until he found their tracking device.
Photo of tracking device courtesy of Yasir Afifi