Privacy Law

Feds use radar that can detect movement in homes; appeals court raises privacy concerns

  • Print

Radars developed for use in Iraq and Afghanistan are being used by at least 50 law enforcement agencies to detect movement inside homes.

The FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service are among the agencies using the radar devices known as the Range-R, a development that concerns some privacy advocates, USA Today reports. Officials say the devices can be used to pinpoint people in a building before it is stormed by law enforcement.

The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals expressed concern in a Dec. 30 opinion (PDF) that nonetheless upheld the arrest of a man wanted for a probation violation. Officers used the “handheld Doppler radar device” to determine someone was inside the house where the offender was thought to be living before forcing open the door and finding him inside, along with a stash of illegal guns, the court said.

The appeals court said the arrest was lawful because officers already had probable cause to think the suspect was at home before using the device. But the court saw potential legal issues ahead.

“It’s obvious to us and everyone else in this case that the government’s warrantless use of such a powerful tool to search inside homes poses grave Fourth Amendment questions,” the court said. “New technologies bring with them not only new opportunities for law enforcement to catch criminals but also new risks for abuse and new ways to invade constitutional rights.”

Unlawful searches using the devices could lead to suppression of evidence and civil suits, the court said. If the device is capable of distinguishing one person from several, its revelations could negate officers’ reasons to search a suspect’s home for a compatriot. “We don’t doubt that the use of such devices could well wind up undoing the justification for a good number of protective sweeps in the future,” the court said.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.