Yasir Afifi, the 20-year-old Arab-American student who was visited by FBI agents after he found a secret GPS tracking device on his car, sued Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller this week for allegedly violating his constitutional rights.
Affifi, an American-born business marketing major at Mission College in Santa
Clara, was concerned the black, rectangular device a mechanic found on his vehicle might have been a pipe bomb, according to the lawsuit.
So he did what most college students would do: crowd-sourced his detective work by posting photos of the device on Reddit.com.
The lawsuit describes how several agents showed up at Affifi’s California apartment just a couple days after the photos were posted. Affifi alleges that the unknown agents in three unmarked vehicles subjected him to a hostile interrogation in a “bizarre mission to retrieve the device” and did not honor his request for the immediate presence of his counsel.
“Even after requesting counsel, the FBI agents continued to make demands of Mr. Afifi and interrogate him,” according to the suit filed on Afifi’s behalf by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). “They asked him whether he was a national security threat, whether he was excited about an upcoming (but undisclosed) trip abroad, whether he was having financial difficulties, whether he had been to Yemen, why he traveled overseas, and many other questions.”
Eventually, Afifi relented and obtained the device from his house to hand over to the feds but asked the FBI agents to stay outside. Once he handed the GPS device over, a female agent who identified herself as Jennifer Kanaan “made clear that she knew intimate, private details of Mr. Afifi’s life” by congratulating him on his new job and commending his taste in restaurants, according to the suit.
In addition to talking to the media about what happened with the agents, Affifi filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for his FBI file. Affifi received a package via overnight mail on Jan. 26 — the same day that FBI agents told his counsel that they wanted to further interrogate Affifi, according to the suit.
The FBI’s file described Affifi as a “bright hardworking student, trying to support his family…[who] would be great to work for the FBI,” according to the documents he obtained in his FOIA request.
But it also indicated agents maintained his comments to the media manifested “gross inaccuracies,” according to the lawsuit, which says the actions of the federal government have hurt his chances at employment.
“Defendants’ unlawful intrusions into Mr. Afifi’s life — initiated as a result of his heritage,
lawful associations, and disclosed political views — create an objective chill on Mr. Afifi’s First Amendment activities,” according to the suit.
FBI guidelines on domestic surveillance state that the “use of…monitoring devices”
by FBI agents to gather information on a person are “subject to legal review by
the Chief Division Counsel or the FBI Office of General Counsel,” the lawsuit says. “Thus, prior to using an electronic tracking device, FBI agents receive approval from a department located within FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.”
The suit seeks an injunction instructing the feds to refrain from attaching a tracking device to Afifi’s vehicle; abandon the policy of using tracking devices without a search warrant and expunge all records collected without a warrant; and award damages to Afifi for the “emotional pain, suffering, reputational harm, economic injury, and anxiety caused
by Defendants’ unlawful actions.”