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A recent development has both privacy experts and judges worried about police intrusion into people’s lives. At least 50 law enforcement agencies across the United States, including the FBI and the U.S. Marshals, have been using a new radar device to see inside people’s homes. They’ve been doing it for at least two years, with no oversight, no public disclosure of the technology, and using the device without obtaining any kind of search warrant.

This issue first came to light in December of last year, during a court case where police used the device to search a man’s home before arresting him for violating his parole. Although they had an arrest warrant to bring the man in, there was no warrant to search his house. The judge presiding over the case expressed concern over the use of the radar in this case, and hinted at possible 4th amendment violations.

The use of this device without obtaining a search warrant would seem to violate the Supreme Court’s most recent interpretation of the 4th amendment. In 2001 the court ruled that police could not scan the outside of a house with thermal imaging cameras, without first obtaining a warrant. They even specifically noted that the same rules would apply radar based systems that were still under development at the time. A more recent case from 2013 forbids the police from having drug sniffing dogs sniff the outside of a person’s home without a warrant.

The technology was originally developed for use in Iraq and Afghanistan by military forces, but has made its way into the hands of police in the last 2 years. The devices have very powerful motion detection capabilities. They are even sensitive enough to pick up the very small movement of breathing. There are different models, which vary in output. Some simply detect if there is any movement on the other side of a wall, and if so how far away it is. Some more advanced models have a 3D output that shows if any people are in the house and exactly where they are located.

Perhaps the biggest threat to privacy is not the fact that these devices exist, but that police agencies kept them a secret. Until recently the court system was completely in the dark that they were being used by law enforcement to search people’s homes. Police however, argue that using the device is a matter of safety. When they need to enter someone’s home to make an arrest they can use it to see if someone is waiting for them on the other side of a door. They argue that it is so necessary to save lives that a warrant should not be required.

Do you think the police are justified in using the radar to search people’s homes without obtaining a warrant, or was it a violation of their rights? Leave your comments below.

Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.

  • DynastyStar

    Personally, I think its a violation of our rights, Though perhaps such a thing MIGHT in certain circumstances be needed with the amount of people getting SWATTed nowadays. I mean if you had the choice between the police using something like this, and having your door busted down and getting attacked by the very people who are meant to protect you, which would you choose? Though, I am a bit concerned that they kept them a secret.

  • John Quilty

    In my opinion, a blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment under Kyllo v. United States.

  • Kevin

    What if you coated yourself in radar absorbing paint?

  • Ben Jeanotte

    Ugh, this is totally a violation, looking through solid walls is not like looking through a window!

  • It’s better to just use aluminum backed boarding in your house. It’ll screw up your WiFi though (you should be cabled anyway).

  • That’s a justifiable use of the equipment because it presents “exigent circumstance”, i.e. imminent threat of danger. The concern is ‘causal scanning’. It’s a bit like the “Stingray” towers that are going up that can be used to hijack mobile phone signals and traffic. Same argument could be had there.. tower goes up to track a known terrorist in the act of, or about to, commit a crime, but in doing so it captures everything…

  • This is bullshit. I am not willing to give up my personal freedoms so that some situations might be made safer, especially if my rights are being violated to do so.

    The real question is, now that we’ve found out that our freedoms are being taken from us unknowingly, what can we do about it?