Another Arab American Finds Tracking Device in His Car

Yesterday, I wrote about the FBI placing a GPS tracking device on the car of Yasir Afifi, an Arab American in California.

Today, I learned about a similar story.

Veena Dubal, a staff attorney with the Asian Law Caucus, based in San Francisco, tells me that she has a client who found such a tracking device in his car in June 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.”

Her client, a retired social worker and a U.S. citizen, pulled the tracking device off the car and took the battery out.

A few days later, he took his car to a professional mechanic at Carlos Auto Repair in San Rafael.

“He came by one day and we worked on his car,” says Jorge Nogueiro, one of the owners of the shop. “And then a few weeks later some San Rafael undercover police came by and were looking for his car and his tracking device. They left me their card. The next day, the car owner stopped by, and I told them the police were looking for him. He said, ‘I’ll be damned.’ ”

Nogueiro says he felt like he was put on the spot, since he’d told the police he’d notify them if the car owner returned. “So, while he was here, I called them back,” Nogueiro says. “And they were here in a second. They grabbed that thing like it was yesterday. They said, ‘It’s ours. We’re taking it.’ There was no giving it back.”

Attorney Dubal says she has filed a Freedom of Information Act request and a California Public Records Act request on her client’s behalf but both “came back with nothing.” She also has written a complaint to the San Rafael police department, she says.

I called the San Rafael police department but was told that there was no one there who could help me about her complaint.

Dubal says the police and the FBI may be placing these tracking devices on a lot of Arab Americans’ cars. “It’s awful,” she says. “It’s really scary. And it disrupts a reasonable person’s expectations of privacy.”

Her client, she says, “has no criminal record. All that he has is a speeding ticket. He’s an upstanding citizen, a very sweet older man. But he’s facing a lot of harassment that is ostensibly legal but is certainly un-American.”

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