General Crime

* U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring authorities to obtain a search warrant before placing a secret tracking device

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Lawyers for an Arab-American college student from the South Bay hailed today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring authorities to obtain a search warrant before placing a secret tracking device on a car. The student, Yasir Afifi, 21, of San Jose, is a U.S. citizen of Middle Eastern descent who is majoring in business marketing at Mission College in Santa Clara. On Oct. 3, 2010, he discovered a global positioning system tracking device on the underside of his car after he stopped at a mechanic’s shop for an oil change.

Fearing that the black rectangular object might be a bomb, he posted a picture of it on the Internet and learned it was a tracking device. Two days later, FBI agents appeared at his doorstop to interrogate him and demand that he return the device, according a civil rights lawsuit Afifi filed against the FBI last year in federal court in Washington, D.C. That lawsuit has been put on hold until the Supreme Court issued today’s decision in a separate case concerning Antoine Jones of Washington, D.C., who was convicted of cocaine conspiracy and sentenced to life in prison after authorities hid a GPS tracking device on his car for 28 days.

The high court said the use of the device amounted to a search and that conducting that search without a warrant from a judge violated the constitutional Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches. Afifi’s lawyers, who are from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the ruling resolves a conflict among lower courts and appears to support their arguments.

“We welcome this decision from the Supreme Court because it shows clearly 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,” attorney Nadhira Al-Khalili said. Zahra Billoo, the executive director of the council’s San Francisco Bay Area branch, said, “This important ruling will serve to protect all Americans from further unchecked assaults on constitutional rights.”

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