Police radars that can see through walls worry privacy advocates

21 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Law enforcement is getting new surveillance tools. But they don’t always want to talk about them..

Using a radar device known as a Range-R, police can broadcast radio waves into a house and detect motion as subtle as human breathing from up to 50 feet away.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.Use of the devices has raised privacy concerns — especially involving police being able to see inside a structure without first obtaining a search warrant.

The radar guns are just the latest in a long line of tech tools being quietly deployed across the country with little public scrutiny, raising questions about how the Fourth Amendment applies in the digital era. In December, a federal appeals court in Denver seemed alarmed that officers had used the Range-R device to peer inside a home before arresting a man for violating parole, the paper reported. Radar devices were first designed for wartime use in Afghanistan and Iraq, and their deployment in civilian life brings complicated legal issues still being argued in the judicial system.

Marshals Service, which alone spent some $180,000 on Range-Rs since 2012. “The idea that the government can send signals through the wall of your house to figure out what’s inside is problematic,” American Civil Liberties Union principal technologist Christopher Soghoian told USA Today. “Technologies that allow the police to look inside of a home are among the intrusive tools that police have.” The paper first uncovered the tech in a December U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, in which police used a Range-R to locate and arrest a convicted felon for failing to report to his parole officer. Marshals Service, began deploying the radar systems more than two years ago with little notice to the courts and no public disclosure of when or how they would be used.

The Range-R features a display screen that shows if it has detected movement on the other side of a wall and how far away that movement was, although it doesn’t render pictures of what’s actually going on inside a house or room. However, USA Today notes that more sophisticated models are on the market, including devices that can be mounted on drones and those that can reveal three-dimensional displays of where people are inside buildings. Upon entering the house, police discovered the suspect along with multiple firearms the suspect was legally barred from possessing due to a previous conviction.

Marshals Are Surveilling Thousands Of Americans’ Phones With Plane-Mounted Stingrays) Originally developed for anti-terror operations, stingrays have been deployed by police, the FBI and the U.S. The devices masquerade as cellphone towers and connect to every cellphone in a given area, giving police access to a wealth of information including location, calls, texts and more.

Where, as here, the Government uses a device that is not in general public use, to explore details of the home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a “search” and is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant. 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. He said the Marshals Service “routinely pursues and arrests violent offenders based on pre-established probable cause in arrest warrants” for serious crimes.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that the Constitution generally bars police from scanning the outside of a house with a thermal camera unless they have a warrant, and specifically noted that the rule would apply to radar-based systems that were then being developed. The federal appeals court’s decision published last month was apparently the first by an appellate court to reference the technology or its implications. Still, the judges wrote, they had “little doubt that the radar device deployed here will soon generate many questions for this court.” But privacy advocates said they see more immediate questions, including how judges could be surprised by technology that has been in agents’ hands for at least two years. “The problem isn’t that the police have this.

The issue isn’t the technology; the issue is always about how you use it and what the safeguards are,” said Hanni Fakhoury, a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Marshals, the investigative means utilized to locate the suspect have not been revealed,” he wrote, suggesting that officers instead say they had received help from “a confidential source.” Note that this email actually spelled it U.S. Marshalls (two l’s)./bdh William Sorukas, a former supervisor of the Marshals Service’s domestic investigations arm, said deputies are not instructed to conceal the agency’s high-tech tools, but they also know not to advertise them. “If you disclose a technology or a method or a source, you’re telling the bad guys along with everyone else,” he said.

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