In case you missed it | Spies, lies and GPS



Spies, lies and GPS

As we all know, getting bad news when you take your car in for service is just part of the joy of owning a vehicle. But for Yasir Afifi, 20, the news wasn’t just bad — it was bizarre.

According to, Afifi, a marketing student at Mission College in Santa Clara, Calif., took his Ford Lincoln LS in for an oil change. While the vehicle was on the lift, he noticed an antenna sticking out near the rear wheel. At his request, a mechanic took a look and found a strange contraption stuck to the car by a magnet.

After one of Afifi’s friends placed an image of the device on, Afifi learned it was a sophisticated GPS tracking device of the sort used by the FBI to track the movements of people its deems suspicious. Afifi, being a U.S.-born Arab-American who is ethnically half Egyptian, apparently fits the criteria.

Boulder Weekly reported back in July 2003 on a similar device that the FBI had secretly placed on the car of environmental activist Mike Nicosia, who aroused their suspicion by being roommates with Rod Coronado, member of the Earth First! movement. But back then, no one had really seen one of these gizmos before. Social networking was in its infancy, so rather than going online Nicosia brought the device to the paper. We took it to some experts who said federal agents probably used it to track Nicosia’s whereabouts.

Of course, the FBI denied it. In fact, the FBI spokesperson went ballistic on the phone when we called, actually raising her voice at us and accusing us of being paranoid.

But this time around, there was no denying that the device was theirs.

After photos of it went up on Reddit, two FBI agents showed up at Afifi’s home and demanded to have their expensive spying device back. They allegedly threatened to make things hard for him if he didn’t cooperate.

We’d like to think of the FBI as an organization made up of heroes who would never use fear to manipulate innocent people and would take great pains to defend the civil rights of the population they’re supposed to serve. But when agents spy on American citizens and toss threats around, they lose hero status and end up being relegated to the category of thugs.

And for the record, we weren’t paranoid back in 2003. We were right on.

Boulder gets tough on snow

The Boulder City Council voted on Oct. 5 to enact stricter rules for removing snow and ice from sidewalks. Property owners now have only until noon on the day after a snowstorm to get their sidewalks shoveled, and the cutoff time for a snowstorm is 5 a.m. So if it stops snowing at 4:59 a.m. and you’re one of the unfortunate few in Boulder who actually has a job and must go to work, you might find yourself getting ticketed unless you can fit in an extra hour to shovel the sidewalk.

OK, fine. We don’t want to see residents slipping and sliding their way to orthopedic surgery because people can’t get their walkways cleared. But seven hours seems pretty darned harsh, especially when you take into consideration how terrible the City of Boulder is at removing snow from the streets.

Here’s our challenge to City Council members. The next time we get a substantial snowfall, please get into your vehicles and drive east on county roads to Longmont. You will find that the county and Longmont governments kick Boulder’s butt when it comes to making the streets safe for motorists. In fact, you can tell the moment street maintenance shifts from the county to the city of Boulder because the roads become slick as shit.

Yes, we know the city would like us all to take buses or ride our bikes, but until we see City Council members wading through knee-deep slush piles to wait an hour and a half for a bus that doesn’t come, we’ll stick with our cars — and hope that Boulder can do a better job of keeping people safe this winter.