Who doesn’t fancy himself a Consitutional expert after a three-day weekend binge-watching The Wire? If nothing else, you know that police need a warrant to justify extreme methods of surveillance, and that a warrant can only be obtained after all other measures have been thoroughly exhausted. (Or, if a judge is buddies with a drunken detective and has the hots for the Assistant State’s Attorney.) So, surely today’s news may come as an outrage:
An investigation by USA Today has found that at least 50 U.S. law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and Tommy Lee Jones’s U.S. Marshals, are equipped with radar devices that allow officers to “see” through the walls of a person’s home. The various agencies have been using this new technology for upwards of two years, often without search warrants.
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The radars work like finely tuned motion detectors, using radio waves to zero in on movements as slight as human breathing from a distance of more than 50 feet. They can detect whether anyone is inside of a house, where they are and whether they are moving.
Agents’ use of the radars was largely unknown until December, when a federal appeals court in Denver said officers had used one before they entered a house to arrest a man wanted for violating his parole. The judges expressed alarm that agents had used the new technology without a search warrant, warning that “the government’s warrantless use of such a powerful tool to search inside homes poses grave Fourth Amendment questions.”
The principal tool in question is L-3 Communications’s Range-R, a handheld device that was first developed for the U.S. Army for use in the Middle East. Like the military-grade gear that turned heads in Ferguson and on college campuses last year, Range-R’s have reportedly been used far away from traditional battlefields. Specifically: Outside of American homes, raising new Constiutional issues
The Fourth Amendment protects American citizens against illegal search and seizure, and it sets specific terms for when officials may break it. Here is the Amendment, in full:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
According to today’s report, various agencies are turning to Range-R’s without explicit permission from the courts, which would (presumably) nullify any evidence or intelligence presented during a trial. Read the full report here.