FBI SECRETLY TRACKS CITIZENS
By Dave Gahary
On Oct. 3, a 20-year-old computer salesman and community college student—a U.S. citizen born in the San Francisco area—took his car for an oil change. His mechanic spotted an odd wire hanging from the undercarriage. The wire was attached to a magnetic device that puzzled the mechanic. The device was removed, images of it posted online, and help requested in identifying it.
Two days later, FBI agents arrived at the man’s Santa Clara, Calif. apartment, demanding the return of their property—a global positioning system tracking device now at the center of a raging legal debate over privacy rights.
AMERICAN FREE PRESS spoke with Zahra Billoo, the victim’s attorney. Billoo is the executive director of the California wing of CAIR, one of the nation’s largest civil rights advocacy groups.
The immediate question posed was: were they surprised that the FBI would just stick a tracking device on someone’s car who had not been accused of committing any crime in order to track his movement?
The attorney replied: “We were surprised more by the blatant disregard [by the FBI] for any attempt to cover it up . . . and that was probably the most appalling part of this story, not so much that my client found the device, but just the fact that they showed up at his home, no apologies, no nothing, just essentially, ‘It’s ours, give it back.’”
Asked why federal authorities would start tracking an American citizen with no regard for his rights, the man’s attorney offered several theories: that maybe there was an anonymous tip; that the defendant fit a certain profile associated with “terrorists”; or that maybe this is a test case of some sort.
Could other devices lurk under the cars of unsuspecting Americans the attorney was asked?
“Absolutely,” he replied, “and there’s no way of knowing whether or not you’re being tracked unless you find the tracking device.”
Unless this is immediately challenged, the FBI could keep placing tracking devices on vehicles in spots that are even harder to find. The attorney added that, so far, U.S. courts have usually sided with law enforcement on this issue.
“Very recently, there was a [U.S.] Ninth Circuit Court [of Appeals] decision that confirmed that law enforcement does not need a warrant to place a GPS tracking device on a car in a public place,” said Billoo.
“And I would assert that most people were not aware of that decision or the implications of that decision [which] really brings the issue home.”
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(Issue # 47, November 22, 2010)