USA Today reports at least 50 US law enforcement agencies have quietly armed officers with the devices, the RANGE-R motion detector, which are manufactured by L-3 Communications.
According to L-3’s website, “the RANGE-R is sufficient to detect people breathing, making it difficult for individuals to hide.” Although it cannot ‘see’ through metal, it can “penetrate most common building wall, ceiling or floor types including poured concrete, concrete block, brick, wood, stucco glass, adobe, dirt, etc.”
RANGE-Rs use radio waves to detect even the slightest motion from as far as 50 feet (15 meters) away.
The FBI and US Marshals Service are among the agencies identified as using the devices. These, and other law enforcement organizations, began using RANGE-Rs more than two years ago with little notice to courts and no public disclosure related to the controversial technology.
Proponents claim the information provided by the use of such devices is critical for officer safety. It is, they say, also very helpful in hostage or disaster rescue operations. But civil liberties advocates and even judges have expressed alarm that their use, especially without public scrutiny, violates privacy rights.
In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled in Kyllo v. United States that warrantless radar searches by police were unconstitutional.
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled in Florida v. Jardines that the use of drug-sniffing dogs constitutes a “search” that requires a warrant as prescribed in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia affirmed “the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion.”
“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 (ACLU) technology specialist Christopher Soghoian told USA Today.
RANGE-R didn’t appear on the public’s radar until last December, when a federal appeals court in Colorado revealed police officers used one before entering a home to apprehend a parole violator.
“The government’s warrantless use of such a powerful tool to search inside homes poses grave Fourth Amendment questions,” the appellate judges wrote in their ruling.
USA Today notes other radar devices have far more advanced capabilities, including ones which utilize 3-D displays to pinpoint the exact location and movements of people inside of buildings. Some can be mounted on drones.
Indeed, the military applications of such radar devices have been known — and used — for years, especially during the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they are credited with helping to reduce casualties.