For two years, dozens of law enforcement agencies quietly have been using radar equipment that can literally see through walls, and they have been doing so without a warrant.
The radar’s use was only revealed by a federal court case filed in Kansas on Dec. 30, 2014, USA Today reported.
U.S. Marshals used a handheld device, the Ranger-R radar system, to “see” through the walls of a house in Wichita and spot a parole violator named Steven Denson, along with a stash of guns, according to an appeal in a court case called United States of America vs. Steven J. Denson.
Denson, who had been convicted of armed robbery, was arrested and sent back to prison.
“When a handheld Doppler radar device and other evidence suggested Mr. Denson might be present inside the house, the officers entered,” Denson’s appeal alleges. “Quickly they found Mr. Denson along with a stash of guns, guns he lacked the right to possess by virtue of his felony conviction.”
Denson’s attorneys are trying to get federal firearms charges dismissed because they believe marshals violated his Fourth Amendment rights by using the Ranger-R to search his home without a search warrant, although marshals did have a warrant for his arrest.
A three judge panel of the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upheld Denson’s conviction, although the justices expressed concern about the secrecy and the lack of a warrant, writing, “The government’s warrantless use of such a powerful tool to search inside homes poses grave Fourth Amendment questions.”
A court transcript recorded a telling exchange, when Deputy US Marshal Josh Moff was asked to describe the technology.
“It’s called a Ranger,” Moff said. “It’s a hand-held Doppler radar device.”
“What does it pick up?” an attorney asked Moff.
“It picks up breathing, human breathing and movement within a house,” Moff answered.
Civil liberties groups said the technology infringes on constitutionally protected freedoms.
“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, a technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Technologies that allow the police to look inside of a home are among the intrusive tools that police have.”
Law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, may have used the device for up to two years and kept it secret, USA Today reported.
How Cops Can See Through Walls Like Superman
The device that Moff used to find Denson and his guns is a hand-held device, about the size of an old-fashioned cell phone. It uses Doppler radar waves to detect motions through walls.
“RANGE-R® is a highly sensitive handheld radar system designed to detect and measure the distance to moving and near-stationary personnel through walls constructed of common building materials,” the device’s website states.
Range-R is being marketed online by its manufacturer, L3 Communications Cyterra Corporation of Colorado Springs. L-3’s website invites law enforcement, the military, fire departments and other customers to email or call for a demonstration. Range-R was apparently developed for the military to use on the battlefield but is now available to any law enforcement agency with a credit card.
USA Today reported that L-3 has sold around 200 of the devices to about 50 law enforcement agencies for $6,000 apiece.
The Range-R has a range of around 50 feet.
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