A California man who famously found a GPS tracking device on his car, installed without a warrant, lost his bid Thursday to hold federal law enforcement officials to account.
In a 27-page decision, U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell dismissed the claims of Yasir Afifi, a U.S.-born citizen and Arab-American who discovered the tracking device by chance in October 2010. At the time, Afifi was a college student.
Howell threw out Afifi’s case for a variety of standing and immunity reasons, among others.
The case began when Afifi, living in Santa Clara, Calif., brought his car in for routine maintenance.
“The results of the maintenance were far from routine, however,” Howell noted. “During the oil change, (Afifi) discovered a wire sticking out between the right rear wheel of his automobile and exhaust. The wire was connected to a smaller black rectangular object that had an antenna.”
At first, Afifi reportedly thought the object might be a “pipe bomb.” Later that day, he uploaded pictures of the object onto an Internet site, whereupon a reader suggested that the object was a GPS tracking device.
“Three days later,” Howell recounted, “multiple FBI agents visited the Afifi’s apartment complex to retrieve the GPS device.”
Afifi, represented by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, sued top Justice Department officials as well as individual FBI special agents. He sought an injunction ordering the FBI to refrain from attaching a GPS tracking device to his vehicle without a warrant, directing the FBI to abandon the policy of allowing the use of GPS tracking devices without a warrant, and ordering expungement of all records collected through the use of the GPS.
Howell, though, stopped the suit in its tracks.
“The individual defendants are entitled to qualified immunity with respect to the alleged constitutional violations (and) the official capacity defendants have not violated the strictures of the Privacy Act,” Howell stated.
In part, Howell reasoned, Afifi had himself to blame for some of the harm caused by discovery of the GPS devices, as he, Howell noted, “ contacted local and national media to share his story.”
“The plaintiff’s potential employers only discovered that the plaintiff was a subject of an FBI investigation because of the plaintiff’s own self-identification as a subject of an FBI investigation. Any injury to the plaintiff as a result was self-inflicted,” Howell wrote.