Police use military radars to see inside homes

I have written before about law enforcement’s creative use of technology to capture bad guys.  The prior article talked about putting cameras on utility poles and intercepting cell phone traffic, both without a warrant.

Today’s story, in USA Today, talks about the FBI, Marshall Service and U.S. Marshal’s use of a type of radar that can see through the walls of houses at a range of up to 50 feet and detect people and motion – even breathing.

The question becomes whether a warrant is needed or not to effectively search your house.  The question in front of the court is just because it can now be done with technology from outside your house, does that make the need for a warrant obsolete?

And, of course, at some point in time, the technology will be used and the wrong person will be in the house and something bad will happen.  It is just a matter of when.  It happens today with no-knock raids without technology.  Nothing is perfect.

The use of this technology came out when a federal appeals court in Denver disclosed that police had used one before entering a house to arrest a man wanted for violating his parole.  When they broke in, they discovered he had two guns, which was a violation of his parole and the parolee wanted the court to throw out the evidence and conviction.

L-3 Communications who makes this device says they have sold about 200 of them to 50 law enforcement agencies for about $6,000 each.  The Marshals Service, which spends a lot of time looking for fugitives, has spent $180,000 on them since 2012.

Another version of the technology allows law enforcement to see a 3 dimensional map of a house showing where people are located and still another version can be mounted on a drone.

Like the previous article, my concern is not with the technology but rather the secretive nature of its use.  The Marshals Service says that they don’t want the bad guys to know that they have the technology.  That could work both ways.  If the fugitive knows the Marshals can see him, he might just give up.

How this came up was that the Marshall did not say that he used Radar to discover that the fugitive was in the house (actually, all they knew was that someone or something alive was in the house).  he said that he “developed reasonable suspicion” that the fugitive was in the house.  When the agent testified, he admitted that he did that by using the radar.

The Marshals Service claims that agents “are not instructed to conceal the agency’s high tech tools”, but on the other hand, “they also know not to advertise them.”  The Sarasota police got caught writing an email (really!) last year telling another police department not to say that they received information from a cell phone interceptor called a stringray.

In 2001, the Supremes said that the police could not do thermal imaging of someone’s  house from the outside without a warrant.  This seems like a very similar situation.  The Supremes have also said the police cannot attach a GPS tracker to your car without a warrant.  The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals – the court that ruled in this case – said that they have little doubt that they will have to address this issue soon.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, I suspect we will hear more about it.

By the way, the court upheld the conviction.