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FBI attaches GPS device then demands its return after car owner finds it

As reported in Wired.com, a California student, Yasir Afifi, recently found a GPS tracking device in his car.  The student posted pictures of the device online which triggered discussion about whether it was real.  The FBI confirmed the device was real when agents showed up at Afifi's apartment and demanded that he return the device to them.  (I have to say it took some chutzpah for the agents to do that.)  Afifi, who by the way is an American citizen, is cooperating with authorities voluntarily and says he has no idea why the FBI wanted to put him under surveillance, the Wired.com report said.

One might wonder whether it is legal for the government to plant tracking devices on cars without a warrant.  It turns out that it is legal.  In a case decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit this year, United States v. Pineda-Moreno, the Court held that it is not a violation of the 4th Amendment to attach tracking devices as long as the vehicle is not in an area in which there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.  The subject in Pineda-Moreno had his car parked in his driveway but the Court ruled that since there was no fence or gate, the driveway was only "semi-private."  For the 4th Amendment to apply, there would have to be barriers in place preventing access to the driveway. 

We were discussing this case at lunch and my law firm partner wondered whether posting of signs that said "No Government Agents Allowed Except Postal Carriers" would have made a difference.

Readers should not rely on this note as legal advice but should consult with a competent attorney licensed in their state. You can also find more information about our firm in our websites on Family Law and Wills and Estate Planning and Administration.

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