As if the relationship with law enforcement was not strained enough, now comes the news that agencies have a device that allows them to determine if someone is inside his private home through the walls—in effect spying through the walls into residences. Talk about invasion of privacy…
Hardly anyone noticed this groundbreaking technology was released, but at least 50 law enforcement agencies around the country have attained the apparatus, according to USA Today. And get this: They have had them for the last two years.
The Range-R Radar System is used by the FBI and U.S. Marshals, among other crime-fighting groups. It works as a stud-finder would on a wall. It is pressed up against a structure and sends a signal that penetrates the walls, searching for movement as far as 50 feet away.
When motion is detected, it registers on the device.
Of course, the potential problems with this kind of access into private residences are significant. The right to privacy certainly seems to be breached. And what happens when criminals get their hands on the Range-R Radar System? Surely they will use them to detect if someone is home before breaking into the home.
It’s also disturbing that law enforcement has been using the system for two years with impunity and without the knowledge of citizens or push back from lawmakers.
Based on the demo video provided to USA Today by manufacturer L-3 Communications, the device has somewhat limited capabilities, only offering a rough approximation of the distance between the unit and a moving object. But it penetrates most common building walls, ceiling or floor types including poured concrete, concrete block, brick, wood, stucco glass, adobe, dirt, etc. It cannot penetrate metal. . . yet. Surely someone is working to improve the technology.
Question, though: Is this legal? The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that law enforcement agencies cannot use high-tech sensors in this way without a search warrant. However, law enforcement agencies were using the RANGE-R technology with no one’s knowledge until a federal appeals court raised an issue over warrantless use in December, according to USA Today. Court documents show that police never admitted to using the scanner in their original report.
L-3 Communications told the newspaper that the radar costs about $6,000 each and that it has sold about 200 units to 50 separate agencies. As technology advances, it’s likely similar devices will end up in the hands of officers and SWAT teams nationwide.
What happens when the U.S. Marshals detect movement in a house, storm it with guns brandished, only to learn it is a suspect’s 85-year-old grandmother? That’s bound to happen, if it has not already.
The room for abuse of such access into people’s homes and the room for misidentification is significant. And for Blacks in America, who have been unjustly targeted more than any other race, it’s another reason to be wary the civil rights violations could occur at the hands of the agencies paid to protect them.
Though officers could use advanced motion detectors to locate suspects, they also offer countless possibilities for abuse. To be honest, sometimes the police don’t inspire confidence in their motives.
Electronic Frontier Foundation Hanni Fakhoury said to USA Today: “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.”