After last week’s discovery that the FBI had placed a tracking device on an Arab-American 20 year old college student, Yasir Afifi, news has come out to suggest that Afifi is not alone.
Veena Dubal, a staff attorney with the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco, has said that one of her clients had found a similar tracking device on his car in 2009.
“I have an elderly Arab American client who was attending a free workshop on how to be a mechanic, and they were using his car as the demonstration car for an oil change,” she says. “In the middle of the class, the instructor stopped and said, ‘Oh my God, there’s a bomb in the car.’ So everyone evacuated. But it wasn’t a bomb. It was a tracking device. You can imagine how humiliating this was for my client. Everyone was looking at him like he was a terrorist and like he was going to blow them up.”
When Dubal’s client removed the battery from his tracking device, the FBI came to reclaim their device. She suspects that the police and FBI have been placing tracking devices on a number of Arab Americans’ cars, saying, “It’s really scary. And it disrupts a reasonable person’s expectations of privacy.”
The recent incidents have encouraged courts to revisit the issue of whether warrants are needed for the FBI to transplant such gadgets on citizen vehicles. Although the California Circuit Court recently found that no warrant is required for FBI tracking devices, the DC Circuit court found otherwise; the dispute implies that the matter is almost certainly headed to the Supreme Court.
Last month, the San Francisco Police Department made the decision to hire extra Terrorist Liaison Officers to gather intelligence information and uncover potential terror threats. Many protested this decision, claiming that members of the Muslim community would be unfairly targeted through such programs.
Just a few weeks ago, a special Human Rights Commission in the San Francisco City Hall housed concerned community members and lawyers. The Commission met over anxiety that the SFPD was now resuming intelligence-gathering operations that had been stopped by activist groups in the 1980’s. Many citizens in attendance attested to being questioned and visited by the FBI in their homes and places of employment.
More than a dozen Arabs at the Commission also said that they no longer felt safe in San Francisco.