Warrantless GPS Tracking

SS YaserAfifi LIn the beginning of 2011, Yasir Afifi, a 20-year-old Muslim student from Santa Clara, California took his car in for an oil change. While changing the oil, the mechanic found an unusual device attached beneath the car and showed it to Yasir.

Because they couldn’t identify the device, one of Yasir’s friends posted pictures of it online asking if anyone knew what it was. Not long afterward, FBI agents showed up at Yasir’s door saying the object was a GPS tracking device, that it belonged to the bureau, and that they wanted it back.

Yasir turned to CAIR’s San Francisco Bay Area chapter (CAIR-SFBA) to protect his rights. After communicating with the FBI agents, CAIR-SFBA’s executive director and attorney, Zahra Billoo, learned that the GPS device had been planted by the FBI without a warrant.

On March 2, 2011, CAIR filed a lawsuit on Yasir Afifi’s behalf in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia stating that the FBI violated Afifi’s First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights when the bureau failed to obtain a warrant to place the GPS tracking device on his car to monitor his daily activities.

The lawsuit, which names Attorney General Eric Holder, FBI Director Robert Mueller and “unknown FBI agents” as defendants, seeks an order preventing another tracking device from being attached to his vehicle without a search warrant. The requested order would also bar the FBI from using tracking devices without first obtaining a search warrant. 

In September 2011, CAIR submitted an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief to the U.S. Supreme Court when it was hearing another case of authorities using GPS devices to track a person without a warrant. (An amicus brief is submitted by someone who is not part of a case being heard but who has relevant experience or arguments to add). We believe this was the first time a Muslim organization submitted a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court.

CAIR’s brief argues that “warrantless prolonged GPS surveillance disproportionately harms American Muslims and curtails their First Amendment rights” and that “law enforcement has conducted indiscriminate surveillance of innocent American Muslims for the last decade.”

We anticipate a ruling by the Supreme Court between April and July 2012. How the court rules on this case will set a precedent for all future cases of warrantless tracking and monitoring.

CAIR Applauds Supreme Court Ruling on GPS Monitoring
Court says warrantless monitoring violates Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 1/23/12) –- The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s leading Muslim civil liberties organization, today applauded a unanimous ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court stating that warrantless GPS monitoring of suspects violates the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

SEE: Warrants Needed for GPS Monitoring, Supreme Court Rules
http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/01/scotus-gps-ruling/
To read the entire decision, visit:
http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-1259.pdf

CAIR said the decision, published this morning, held that the installation of a GPS tracking device on a vehicle by law enforcement authorities constitutes a search as defined by the Fourth Amendment and therefore required a warrant. The decision resolves a conflict among lower courts about whether or not law enforcement agencies should be required to obtain a warrant.

In October of last year, CAIR filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief in the case (United States v. Jones) seeking the court’s support for the requirement that a warrant be obtained before placing a GPS tracking device on any individual’s vehicle.

To read the entire CAIR brief, visit:
images/pdf/10-1259-bsac.pdf

"We welcome this decision because it clearly shows that the nation's highest court has recognized that the warrantless use of GPS devices is a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure," said CAIR Legal Counsel Nadhira Al-Khalili, the attorney of record on CAIR’s amicus brief.

She said CAIR’s interest in the case stems from a lawsuit it is litigating on behalf of Yasir Afifi, a Santa Clara, Calif., resident who discovered a GPS tracking device placed on his vehicle in October 2010. FBI agents went to Afifi's home two days after the GPS device was discovered to retrieve it and interrogate him.

In March 2011, CAIR filed suit on behalf of Afifi against Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller. In September 2011, that case was stayed pending the Supreme Court's decision.

"This important ruling will serve to protect all Americans from further unchecked assaults on their constitutional rights," said Zahra Billoo, executive director of CAIR’s San Francisco Bay Area chapter and Afifi’s attorney.

SEE: Caught Spying on Student ­ FBI Demands GPS Tracker Back
http://tinyurl.com/37zz8gb

CAIR received reports from several American Muslims who have discovered GPS tracking devices on their vehicles. In each of these cases, there has not been a warrant.