Police Across The US Are Using Radar To See Through Walls And Into Homes Without Warrants

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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Law enforcement agencies across the U.S. are using advanced radar technology to peer inside the homes of Americans without obtaining search warrants.

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. The practice has reportedly been in use for at least two years according to USA Today.

L-3 Communications — the device’s manufacturer — reports it has sold 200 hundred of the devices to 50 law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. including the FBI and the U.S. 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. According to a court document, Kansas police used the device to confirm the suspect’s presence inside a house with a utility paid for under his name. Upon entering the house, police discovered the suspect along with multiple firearms the suspect was legally barred from possessing due to a previous conviction.

Judges presiding over the case expressed concern over the fact that police failed to obtain a search warrant prior to entering the residence, and warned that “the government’s warrantless use of such a powerful tool to search inside homes poses grave Fourth Amendment questions.”

Originally developed for use by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, Range-Rs cost $2,000 per unit and raise many of the same potential Fourth Amendment questions as another piece of police tech that’s been grabbing headlines recently — stingrays. (RELATED: U.S. 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. Marshals Service across the U.S. for years. 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. They’re often deployed without a warrant, and have been used increasingly for routine police work in recent years. (RELATED: Stingray Developer Misled FCC To Sell Cellphone Tracking Tech To Police)

Justice Department spokesman Patrick Rodenbush told USA Today that the department is reviewing the case, but added that the U.S. Marshals Service “routinely pursues and arrests violent offenders based on pre-established probable cause in arrest warrants.”

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