Security expert Bruce Schneier discusses a recent case where Yasir Afifi, a 20-year-old marketing college student in Silicon Valley of partially Egyptian ancestry, found a big ugly tracking device attached to his car. Turns out it was placed there by the FBI -- sans a warrant, in keeping with the recent Ninth Circuit Court ruling.
The scary part is that all Afifi had done was be friends with a guy who made a blog post noting that it's logistically easy to carry out a suicide bombing. The friend didn't say such attacks were good, recommend them, or anything like that: he noted that "if terrorism were actually a legitimate threat, think about how many fucking malls would have blown up already," since such attacks are not difficult. That's it: a legitimate analysis of a common terrorist tactic.
Schneier says the case raises three questions: 1) Is the FBI's car surveillance technology that lame? 2) If they're doing this to someone so tangentially connected to a vaguely bothersome post on an obscure blog, just how many of us have tracking devices on our cars right now? (I've been net active since the late 80s. I've posted much more interesting stuff than the post by Afifi's friend in question. And you're reading my stuff...we might as well all paint "suspect" on our foreheads.) 3) How many people are being paid to read obscure blogs, looking for more college students to surveil?
One amusing bit, though: the FBI demanded that Afifi return the gizmo. A note to my fans in domestic surveillance: it's finder's keepers as far as I'm concerned, and without a court order to the contrary any spook gear I find will end up on eBay. Or maybe just shipped directly to WikiLeaks for an informative dissection.