More than 50 U.S. law enforcement agencies are using a type of radar that effectively lets officers peer through the walls of homes to determine whether anyone is inside.
Agencies began using the radar, known as Range-R, more than two years ago without informing the public and with little notice to the courts. According to USA Today, federal contract records indicate that the U.S. Marshals Service began purchasing the technology in 2012, spending at least $180,000 on Range-R to date.
But its use was only made public in December when a federal appeals court in Denver said that the radar had been used before entering a house to arrest a man named Steven Denson for violating the conditions of his parole.
The technology uses radio waves to detect even the slightest movement, such as a human breathing, from more than 50 feet away. While the device does not display an image, it does alert officers that it has detected movement and indicates how far away that movement is.
The radar raises a slew of legal and privacy concerns, especially since the Supreme Court ruled in 2001 in Kyllo v. United States that the use of thermal imaging to monitor the heat from a person’s home constitutes a search and therefore requires a warrant.
While the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the search in Denson’s case, the judges wrote that they had “little doubt that the radar device deployed here will soon generate many questions for this court.”
“What happens in your home is supposed to receive the highest level of protection under the law,” says Christopher Soghoian, the American Civil Liberties Union’s principal technologist. “At least if the police kick down your front door or knock on your front door and demand to come in, you know they are looking inside…you can at least voice your opposition. When the police use a device like this, you have no idea that they are doing it.”
“I think that one of the reasons why so many of these Snowden revelations have been troubling isn’t because the government is doing this, it’s that the government did it and didn’t tell us,” he continues. “There has been no legislation that has been passed explicitly authorizing the use of this technology.… And technologies that allow the government to see into your living room and see into your bedroom should be debated publicly.”
As USA Today notes, other, more advanced technologies exist, such as a radar that creates three-dimensional displays of where people are located within a building.
While it is unknown whether law enforcement uses the more high-tech radar, many technologies currently sit in law enforcement’s surveillance arsenal, which have also been introduced without public debate and used secretly.
One example are “stingrays,” which allow agencies to extract data from cell phones like location and call logs. It is only through uncovereddocuments that the public is learning what the technology is and how it is being used by law enforcement.
“When law enforcement agencies introduce surveillance technology without telling Congress and the courts it short circuits democracy,” says Soghoian.
According to L-3 Communications, the Range-R’s maker, around 200 devices have been sold for about $6,000 per device.