On Wednesday the Council on American Islamic Relations sued the FBI on behalf of Yasir Afifi, a 20-year-old Muslim American student at Mission College in Santa Clara, who last fall found an FBI tracking device under his car. (Full text of the lawsuit here.) The device was discovered by a mechanic during an oil change, at which point Afifi posted a photo on the Web seeking to identify it. Soon after, the FBI paid him a visit. The San Jose Mercury News reports Afifi’s account of what happened next:
A couple of days after he posted the photo, Afifi said FBI agents pulled him over to question him about his license. One agent identified himself only as Vincent, the suit alleges. The agents asked about the tracking device and said if he didn’t turn it over, he’d face charges for possessing federal property. Vincent said he had a warrant to retrieve the device, but refused to show it to Afifi, the suit states.
Afifi said he wanted to contact an attorney, who would make the “appropriate arrangements” with the FBI, but then “Vincent began yelling at Mr. Afifi and emphatically refused Mr. Afifi’s request,” according to the suit.
Here’s a KGO interview with Afifi from Oct 8:
Yesterday, KQED’s Amy Standen interviewed Zahra Billoo, the Executive Director of the San Francisco branch of the Council for American-Islamic Relations. Billoo said that after the Afifi story broke last year, her group filed a Freedom of Information Act request on the case, which was quickly followed by another request from the FBI to meet with Afifi. She said the lawsuit seeks to prevent the FBI from surveilling or interrogating him.
The FBI has “continually (reached) out to (Afifi) to engage him in interrrogations,” she said. She said the agency had also sought to interview Afifi before he discovered the tracking device, but had rescinded the request after he said he wanted an attorney present.
The suit alleges that the FBI placed the GPS tracker on Afifi’s vehicle without a warrant, violating the Fourth Amendment . The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has already ruled that law enforcement can use GPS devices without a warrant, but the court in D.C., where the suit was filed, has ruled against the practice.
Billoo said she knew of about five similar cases concerning Muslims or people of South Asian descent around the country, but speculated that more have gone unreported.
Listen to Amy Standen’s inteview with Zahra Billoo here:
Last October, KQED’s Mina Kim reported on both the Afifi case and that of another Arab-American, Abdo Alwareeth from San Rafael, who found a similar device on his car, which was eventually claimed by local police. “This is how they make us feel, that we are being tracked,” Alwareeth, a retired grocery and gas station owner, said. “Tracked for what?”
When questioned by AP about the Afifi case, the FBI said, “The FBI conducts investigations under well-established Department of Justice and FBI guidelines that determine what investigative steps or techniques are appropriate. Those guidelines also ensure the protection of civil and constitutional rights.”