Yasir Afifi, a California computer salesman and student, took his car in for an oil change earlier this month and his mechanic spotted an odd wire hanging from the undercarriage. After Afifi posted an image of it online, reports the Associated Press, FBI agents demanded the return of their property – a global positioning system tracking device now at the center of a legal debate over privacy rights. Law enforcement advocates say GPS can eliminate time-consuming stakeouts and old-fashioned “tails” with unmarked police cars.
The federal appeals court based in Washington, D.C., said in August that investigators must obtain a warrant for GPS. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco reached an opposite conclusion. George Washington University law Prof. Orin Kerr said the issue boils down to public vs. private. As long as GPS devices are attached to vehicles on public roads, Kerr believes the U.S. Supreme Court will decide no warrant is needed. A long line of previous 4th Amendment decisions allows for warrantless searches as long as they’re conducted on public property.