Apple Airtags Used to Prove That Contractor Illegally Trashed Unhoused People’s Property

Apple Airtags Used to Prove That Contractor Illegally Trashed Unhoused People’s Property
Photo: ROBYN BECK / Contributor, Getty Images

A lawyer in Portland, Oregon, suspected that a city contractor was illegally trashing property belonging to people living at an encampment for people experiencing homelessness, so he covertly attached Apple AirTag tracking devices to some of the items. Sure enough, the items ended up in a landfill, and now there may be enough legal evidence to stop the city from sweeping these camps indefinitely.

According to the Portland Tribune, local lawyer and advocate for the unhoused, Michael Fuller, has been trying for weeks to compel city contractor Rapid Response Bioclean to stop its relentless trashing of personal items, which is illegal under Oregon state law. According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, the city of Portland is required to retain all property that is “recognisable as belonging to a person and that has apparent use” and store it in a warehouse for 30 days once confiscated, unless the items in question are unsanitary or have no obvious use.

“I practically begged the city not to move forward with the sweep to make sure property wasn’t being destroyed, and the city ignored me,” Fuller told the Tribune. “Now there’s going to be legal consequences. It completely vindicates what the homeless people have been saying all along.”

With permission from several of the residents of the Laurelhurst Park encampment, Fuller surreptitiously attached AirTags to 16 personal items, including a pair of gloves, a speaker, two canvas paintings, and a French press. Then, he used the data that AirTag feeds to Apple’s Find My network to watch as the items made their way to a landfill.

The situation in Portland has become dire: On July 28, the Willamette Week reported that the family of an unhoused woman who died in 2019 was planning to sue the city, alleging that her death had been directly caused by a Rapid Response-led sweep one week earlier that had resulted in her medication being trashed.

That suit, which is also being brought by Fuller, is an attempt to compel the city of Portland to shift its policies regarding the clearing of encampments and to prove that the city has systematically and repeatedly failed to follow laws implemented to safeguard the property of the homeless.

“All we are asking is for the City to follow the laws that are already in place,” said attorney Michael Fuller told OPB in a statement. “We hope the Mayor will simply agree to the relief we’re seeking, rather than waste hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars litigating against our team of volunteer attorneys for the next year.”