Controversy rises over police radars that 'see through walls'

These radar detectors use radio waves to determine if someone is inside a home and whether they are moving


By PoliceOne Staff

At least 50 U.S. law enforcement agencies have equipped their officers with radar devices capable of looking through walls, according to USA Today, raising privacy concerns.

The FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service are among the agencies that have been given these radar systems, which work like finely tuned motion detectors, according to the report, using radio waves to determine if someone is inside a home and whether they are moving.

Federal officials say having such information available is critical for keeping officers safe if they need to storm buildings or rescue hostages, but privacy advocates argue there is concern about the circumstances in which law enforcement agencies may be using the radars without warrants.

"The idea that the government can send signals through the wall of your house to figure out what's inside is problematic," said Christopher Soghoian, the American Civil Liberties Union's principal technologist. "Technologies that allow the police to look inside of a home are among the intrusive tools that police have."

One such device, known as the Range-R, shows the user when it has detected movement on the other side of a wall and how far away it is – but does not show a picture of what is happening inside.

According to the report, this technology has been available to police for over two years, with sales starting in 2012, but it was widely unknown to the public until December 2014, when a federal appeals court in Denver said officers had used one before they entered a house to arrest a man wanted for violating his parole.

The judges expressed concern that agents had used the technology without a search warrant, warning that "the government's warrantless use of such a powerful tool to search inside homes poses grave Fourth Amendment questions."

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