In October 2010, Yasir Afifi took his car in for an oil change to his mechanic in Santa Clara. In addition to a dirty oil filter, the mechanic made another interesting discovery under Afifi’s car: A battery-powered GPS tracking device tucked into the wheel well.
The 20-year-old, U.S.-born Afifi found himself on the receiving end of a government tracking device, apparently stuck on his car by FBI agents tracking movements of the half-Egyptian American citizen.
After reclaiming their device, and grilling Afifi in English and Arabic, agents ultimately told Afifi he was boring and not worth following.
That didn’t stop Afifi from filing a civil rights lawsuit, the outcome of which may well be steered by Monday’s Supreme Court decision that limits law enforcement’s use of GPS to track suspects without a warrant.
Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the ruling in connection with a drug case in Washington D.C., left the door open for further decisions to determine whether an individual’s own GPS device — like a smartphone or navigation system — can be used against them.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a concurring opinion that the ruling didn’t go far enough, and that GPS tracking without a warrant was a threat to citizens’ privacy:
I would ask whether people reasonably expect that their movements will be recorded and aggregated in a manner that enables the Government to ascertain, more or less at will, their political and religious beliefs, sexual habits, and so on.