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College Student Finds GPS On Car, FBI Retrieves It 851

Posted by Soulskill
from the everybody-gets-one-in-the-tailpipe dept.
mngdih writes with this excerpt from Wired: "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. The post prompted wide speculation about whether the device was real, whether the young Arab-American was being targeted in a terrorism investigation and what the authorities would do. It took just 48 hours to find out: The device was real, the student was being secretly tracked and the FBI wanted their expensive device back ... His discovery comes in the wake of a recent ruling by the 9th US 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. ... 'We have all the information we needed,' they told him. 'You don't need to call your lawyer. Don't worry, you're boring.'"
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College Student Finds GPS On Car, FBI Retrieves It

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  • Finders Keepers? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Archangel Michael (180766) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:01AM (#33835960) Journal

    How about a bit of "finders keepers" and disassemble and report of the technology. Followed up by a "Does it Blend" episode !

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:06AM (#33836032)

      If you just find one of these and don't realize that it belongs to the FBI, and think "doesn't belong" and destory it (or just toss it in a dumpster), are you liable to pay for it when the FBI comes to get it back?

      • by clone53421 (1310749) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:11AM (#33836116) Journal

        Take a wild guess.

        • If I ever found one of these things on my car (which I probably won't), I'd sell it to the highest bidder on ebay.

          Then I'd go to jail.

          Where I'd write my version of Mein Kampf. And sell it to become a millionaire when I get out. BTW I think it's horrible the US Government was using racial profiling to track this arab student. Apparently it's wrong when the AZ government does it, but it's okay for the US? They should be required to get search warrant FIRST before wire-tapping..... I mean GPS-tapping a ca

          • by JAZ (13084) on Friday October 08, 2010 @01:25PM (#33838744)
            Redditors are guessing that it had to do with this post that he made. [reddit.com] So slightly more than race, but not by much.
      • by Grizzley9 (1407005) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:16AM (#33836202)
        B/C they found the one they wanted him to find...
      • by larry bagina (561269) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:20AM (#33836244) Journal

        The article is a good read and a little creepy. We're here to recover the device you found on your vehicle. It's federal property. It's an expensive piece, and we need it right now...We.re going to make this much more difficult for you if you don't cooperate"

        Summary: not illegal/unconstitutional for the government to track your car, probably a crime if you find tracker and do anything with it.

    • by Iphtashu Fitz (263795) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:10AM (#33836092)

      How about the FBI throws you in jail for destruction of government property, obstruction, and any other charges they decide to toss your way (rightfully or not)? Is the amount of time spent sitting in a cell, the money lost in lawyers fees, and the hassle of going to court really worth it?

      • by X0563511 (793323) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:12AM (#33836148) Homepage Journal

        ... and how about they kiss his ass, seeing as they left their property inside his for surveillance?

        He's got every right (IMO) to do what he damn well pleased with it.

        • Re:Finders Keepers? (Score:5, Informative)

          by adolf (21054) <flodadolf@gmail.com> on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:22AM (#33836272) Journal

          Recall the recent "found" iPhone 4 debacle:

          The finder of a thing usually seems to have to make a reasonable attempt at finding the owner of an item (and "reasonable" varies quite a lot from place to place), and if it is unclaimed after 30 days, then they are entitled to keep it.

          Generally speaking, YMMV, IANAL, so on, so forth.

          But since the FBI asked for their widget back within 30 days, I guess that it's theirs to recover.

          (Whether or not I think this is morally right is a different discussion entirely. Personally, I'd like to think that if I find a tracking widget on my car, that it's henceforth mine. However...)

          • Re:Finders Keepers? (Score:4, Interesting)

            by falsified (638041) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:38AM (#33836538)
            This is NOT a good analogy. The iPhone was found in a bar, and the jackass that "found" it knew whose it was and made no attempt to give it back. This device was intentionally left attached to the car, with the hope that it would never be found. Basically, the two situations are opposites of each other.
          • Re:Finders Keepers? (Score:5, Informative)

            by DavidTC (10147) <slas45dxsvadiv.vadiv@neverb o x . com> on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:49AM (#33836720) Homepage

            All laws about this aren't the same. There are three different kinds of laws on this topic.

            There's the 'forgot to pick up' law, where you accidentally put something somewhere and forget to get it, like setting your wallet down in a checkout line.

            And there's the 'dropped' law, where you did not know it left your possession.

            These are, believe it or not, often covered under different state laws.

            For example, the rule with the first is often if you find something you think someone has accidentally left, you should keep it there, at least for some specified time. If a customer walks out of a restaurant without their purse, the restaurant should hold their purse for them.

            Whereas with the second, if you find a wallet in the middle of the sidewalk, or even if you find one in the middle of the hall in the exact same restaurant, you're supposed to turn it in to the police. 'The Place' gets things left behind, where people can go back and get them, the police get things that just fell there, where people possibly have no idea where they are.

            Generally. Of course, laws vary by state, but I thought it would be worth mentioning that even truly 'lost' items get treated differently depending on how they got lost.

            And neither of those cover deliberately leaving something somewhere on someone else's property. If such a law exists, it's a different law. As far as I know, you don't have any obligation to take care of people's property and make sure they can find their stuff when they do that, like you do when they accidentally give you possession. OTOH, you can't deliberately break their stuff either.

            I still think the best bet is to take the thing apart and claim you thought it was part of the car. (Or, rather, plead the fifth and have your lawyer point out they haven't proven you knew it wasn't part of the car.)

            OTOH, if you really wanted to screw with the 'lost property' stuff, you put your car inside a giant metal box and hide it in a warehouse somewhere. You have not damaged their tracker at all.

            And by them attaching the tracker, they've just admitted that they're recording the location of your car. So there's no way in hell they can force you to reveal the location of your car, because, duh, that's testifying against yourself. (Think about it for a second. If the FBI is collecting 'the location of the car', then 'the location of the car' is clearly being used as evidence in an investigation, presumably against you, so if you're forced to tell them 'the location of the car'...)

            Now, a court could demand you turn it over, or be in contempt, but they're actually have to go through the court to do that. And you're still have a pretty interesting argument, namely, that you're not willing to remove something they attached to your car, as you have no experience in that sort of thing and they've threatened to sue you if you damage it .(And you still can't be forced to tell them where the car is.) So, while you'd like for them to get their tracker back, there appears to be no way to actually accomplish that.

            • by Belial6 (794905) on Friday October 08, 2010 @12:09PM (#33837896)
              At the point that the FBI is secretly attaching tracking devices to your car, being 'legally right' is moot. They are already carrying out secret operations against you. Your better bet is to just let as many people know what is going on as possible, so when you disappear, there is some hope that you will be found.
              • Re:Finders Keepers? (Score:5, Interesting)

                by Americano (920576) on Friday October 08, 2010 @01:44PM (#33839050)

                being 'legally right' is moot. They are already carrying out secret operations against you.

                I think you mean "They are already carrying out completely legal operations against you, using the legitimate and constitutional authority granted to them by a court of law," right?

                You may not LIKE the authority they're given, but as the law stands today, they absolutely have every right to do it, and it *is* legal for them to do it. If you don't LIKE it, you should vote for legislative candidates who will promise to do something about the issue that concerns you. Or, become a candidate yourself, and educate your fellow citizens about the abuses of power you will correct when you're a representative or senator.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Demonantis (1340557)
              Call the police. Seriously. You don't know what the thing is why the fuck would you drive around in the car once you know it is there. You don't have to fiddle with the courts where no one hears your story instead journalists will start asking the questions that the FBI won't like hearing the answers to.
              • by zelbinion (442226) on Friday October 08, 2010 @03:08PM (#33840106)

                Better yet, park your car outside a government building and then call the police saying there is a suspicious device attached to your car. Hey, you did the right, thing, right? How can they fault you? You didn't put it there, don't know what it is or what it does, so you called the police. I mean really, the thing looks like a transmitter attached to a pipe bomb, what would you think? The resulting traffic jam and media coverage of shutting down part of town while the city's bomb squad recovers an FBI tracking device (or, possibly blows up your car just to be safe) would be pretty embarrassing for the FBI. Would kinda suck to loose the car though.

      • by powerlord (28156) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:14AM (#33836172) Journal

        Yes, but how does he know that it is actually theirs?

        Perhaps they are just trying to get their hands on other people's property.

        Are they prepared to provide a receipt for returning the item, or some proof of ownership that he can retain a copy of to protect himself from liability.

        -- Menachem

      • by Archangel Michael (180766) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:17AM (#33836214) Journal

        So what you're saying is that we've gone from "give me liberty or give me death" to "don't throw me in jail because it will make me uncomfortable".

        As to your last question. YES IT IS WORTH IT. Liberty is always worth the penalty for it, the other option is to acquiesce to slavery. This is no different. Tyranny must be fought with everything we have, because the other options aren't pretty.

        • by Abstrackt (609015) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:31AM (#33836442)

          Not that I disagree with you, but there is a pretty wide gap between saying something like this on the Internet and actually following through with it in the real world.

          There's obviously no way for me to know your level of life-experience but if a person is not normally subjected to direct pain and suffering or is blissfully unaware of it the amount of effort required to force them into acquiescence is minimal. Withstanding that kind of pressure isn't as simple as you make it sound.

          • Re:Finders Keepers? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Defenestrar (1773808) on Friday October 08, 2010 @11:09AM (#33837056)

            Especially if you have a family you are taking care of. You have that extra drive to make sure your daughter will grow up in a free country, but that's tempered by the knowledge that certain acts of civil disobedience (or extrapolating to an illegally oppressive government - those may be acts of constitutional obedience) may place you in custody/court for a sufficient amount of time to lose your job. That could result in failure to pay mortgage, inability to obtain another job within your career, etc...

            I like to think that my daughter will still think of me as her hero and role model when she grows up, and I know my wife would support me (we'd probably be in trouble together actually) if it were one of the Big freedom issues. So what do you do when it's things like back scatter screening on a field-trip to the courthouse [cnet.com] or driving through a DUI checkpoint in the coldest form of sobriety? [drunkdrivingdefense.com]

            This is the insidious danger inherent in the erosion of freedom: not enough to die for, not even enough to make you homeless or hungry or inconvenienced over, but enough, over time, to leave you with a shallow shadow of what our ancestors died for.

        • by cmiller173 (641510) on Friday October 08, 2010 @11:05AM (#33836992)
          1776: "Then it's agreed, gentlemen, in order to secure our rights as a free people, we will risk embarrassment, imprisonment, expropriation, bankruptcy, bodily harm, exile and hanging." 2010: "Of course I'll waive my rights. I don't want to miss my connecting flight."
      • Re:Finders Keepers? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by LWATCDR (28044) on Friday October 08, 2010 @11:03AM (#33836950) Homepage Journal

        Your in college and find a strange device attached to your car.
        I don't know about you but I would have taken it apart to see what it was. I would have figured it was some joke a friend had made.
        If it wasn't marked as federal property how should I know?

    • by Asic Eng (193332) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:13AM (#33836156)
      Well they told him "It's federal property. It's an expensive piece, and we need it right now. [...] We're going to make this much more difficult for you if you don't cooperate." If you want to pick a fight with these thugs then call the ACLU - trying to piss them off might not be such a great idea.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by JWSmythe (446288)

      How about a theft of government equipment charge, followed by a tampering with evidence charge?

      The report on the technology would be pretty boring. Oversized antenna? Check. Battery pack? Check. COTS tracking hardware and software? Check.

      I know I've had law enforcement follow me, and eavesdrop on my phone calls occasionally. Well, not randomly occasionally. They were following particular, perfectly legal, events.

      They've never told me that I

    • by poetmatt (793785) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:36AM (#33836504) Journal

      actually, I would define subversive activities such as putting a GPS device in someone's car to track them without their consent as terrorism.

  • OUCH (Score:5, Funny)

    by ArhcAngel (247594) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:02AM (#33835968)

    When the FBI tells you that you are boring...just WOW!

  • America (Score:5, Funny)

    by InsertWittyNameHere (1438813) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:02AM (#33835970)
    Land of the free*




    * Some conditions apply. See in-country for details. Void where prohibited. No cash value. Offer expires September 11, 2001.
    • Re:America (Score:4, Informative)

      by emj (15659) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:06AM (#33836034) Homepage Journal

      Freedom is just a state granted regulated monopoly on your own free will.

  • by chad.koehler (859648) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:05AM (#33835996)
    When the FBI tells you "Not to worry" and "Don't call your lawyer", do you want to guess who the very next person you should call is?

    Hint:  It's not your mom.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:05AM (#33836002)

    What a wasted opportunity to attach it to a bus.

  • Power source. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Timmmm (636430) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:06AM (#33836022)

    Apparently it is powered by batteries, but I always wondered if you could power one by attaching a peltier module to the exhaust...

  • by Dancindan84 (1056246) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:10AM (#33836090)
    Not saying it's right, but "Afifi said he often travels for business and has two teenage brothers in Egypt whom he supports financially." Frequent traveling along with sending (presumably) large amounts of cash to the middle-east has to raise some red flags.
  • Replant the device (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RichMan (8097) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:10AM (#33836094)

    Now that we have pictures we can identify future devices.
    When you find one, wander over to a freeway gas station and replant it on an interstate truck. At least make them work to recover it.

  • by digitaldc (879047) * on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:10AM (#33836108)
    ...hidden GPS device tracks you!
  • by OhHellWithIt (756826) * on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:12AM (#33836146) Journal

    It would be really interesting to see what would have happened had he disposed of it in a lake before the FBI showed up. There's nothing in the photo to indicate that it belongs to the government; it could have been placed by a private detective. As far as I'm concerned, if you attach something to my car without my permission, it's mine.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by omnichad (1198475)

      And if putting an FBI sticker made you liable for not destroying it, wouldn't everyone start putting FBI stickers on them?

    • by hedwards (940851) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:29AM (#33836404)
      Or, better yet, call 911 and report a suspicious device attached to your car. Given what I saw in the picture, that would've been my first step. The device itself isn't easily distinguishable from a bomb. It's clearly got at least 3 of the components necessary, and I personally wouldn't go screwing around with something that has that many components without a robot to do it for me.
  • by cindyann (1916572) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:20AM (#33836250)
    What if it's in the driveway of my fenced, gated (and gate closed) house, possibly with a guard dog or three roaming the premises?

    I think if I found someone crawling under my car in my unfenced, ungated driveway, placing some device on my car, I'd be cueing up the track of a shotgun being pumped on my MP3 player, then playing it real loud for the perp under my car.

  • by martyros (588782) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:23AM (#33836302)

    If you look further in the article, you can reconstruct a hypothetical scenario which, from the FBI's point of view, looks completely normal:

    • Young Arab American named Khaled writes a blog post hinting at something violent: (TFA: "When he later asked Khaled about the post, his friend recalled “writing something stupid,” but said he wasn’t involved in any wrongdoing.")
    • FBI gets warrants to track whereabouts of Khalid and his friends, one of whom is Afifi (TFA: "[A former FBI agent] said he was certain that agents who installed it would have obtained a 30-day warrant for its use.")
    • FBI plants device on Afifi's car.
    • Afifi finds the device during a routine check-up
    • FBI notices the thing isn't moving, and/or notice the photos online, and decide to show their cards; especially since they're convinced he's not important anyway.

    It's of course a bit scary to have people tracking you when you didn't do anything wrong; and it sounds like there was some annoying bullying (TFA: "[The FBI agent] told Afifi, “We’re going to make this much more difficult for you if you don’t cooperate.”) But it sounds like there's an explanation of how this could have happened by-the-book, and the FBI is doing their job.

  • by WillAdams (45638) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:43AM (#33836616) Homepage

    Someone doing that in my neck of the woods would be greeted by a shotgun-toting homeowner and held for trespassing until the Sheriff showed up.

    The Fourth Amendment reads:

    ``The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.''

    If there's no warrant or probable cause or justifiable reason to be there, they had better stay off my property.

  • by kungfugleek (1314949) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:44AM (#33836638)
    ..but it wasn't totally out of the blue. FTA:

    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.

  • by hey! (33014) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:48AM (#33836708) Homepage Journal

    (1) When a cop investigating you acts friendly toward you, don't assume that means he's your friend.

    (2) [corollary] When a cop who's been investigating you tells you that you don't need to talk to your lawyer, *talk to your lawyer*.

  • by istartedi (132515) on Friday October 08, 2010 @11:23AM (#33837282) Journal

    After reading the TFA (yeah, I know) the FBI actions seem warranted, even though they didn't have a warrant.

    Score 1 for the FBI. Epic fail for the 9th circuit. Even though they were right, they still should have gone through the proper procedure.

    I don't know about you, but I'm willing to pay an extra $1/year in taxes so the FBI follows proper procedure and gets a warrant. If everybody pays that, it's about $300 million. I doubt it would even cost that much to actually do what the Constitution requires. You know, that document that you SWORE TO UPHOLD AND DEFEND?

  • by sampas (256178) on Friday October 08, 2010 @11:28AM (#33837364)
    10. Place it on your ex-girlfriend's car.
    9. Place it on a train.
    8. Place it on a freighter carrying electronics to be recycled in China.
    7 Place it in your carry-on luggage and watch the fun at airport security.
    6. Dial 911 and tell them you've found a bomb on your car. Invite TV news crews to come watch the fun.
    5. Give it to your local ACLU and tell them to make the FBI prove it's theirs before handing it back.
    4. Pretend you don't know it's there, and drive to as many Tea Party events as possible.
    3. Build an autonomous flying drone capable of carrying it and program it to fly around in circles all day.
    2. Hack its logic to input arbitrary coordinates and make virtual visits to places you've always wanted to see.
    1. Pretend it's not there and go on a tour of the most patriotic American landmarks to demonstrate your loyalty to the United States.
  • Simple solution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anaerin (905998) on Friday October 08, 2010 @01:39PM (#33838976)

    "Hello, Police? Yes, my mechanic has found what appears to be a pipe bomb attached to the underside of my car. Could you please send some units, and bomb disposal, here immediately, I am concerned for my life."

    It's a long black pipe, sealed at both ends, with an antenna wire hanging out of it, and magnets to secure it in place. While it may be a GPS tracker, it could just as likely been a pipe bomb with a remote trigger. Best let the authorities blow that sucker up. And if the FBI come by asking for their tracker back, you can have them arrested for instigating an act of terror on American soil by planting their "pipe-bomb" on your car.

    And then the legal system disappears up it's own fundamental orifice.

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