Civil Liberties

Police Use Radar Device To See Inside Your House

The latest example of battlefield technology finding its way home to civilian policing

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Come Back Warrant
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Some 50 police agencies including U.S. marshals and the FBI have been using for two years Range-R doppler radar devices that can see 50 feet through walls, including brick and concrete ones, to detect the location of people inside their houses. And in some cases law enforcement officers are using with them without search warrants. As USA Today reports:

The radars were first designed for use in Iraq and Afghanistan. They represent the latest example of battlefield technology finding its way home to civilian policing and bringing complex legal questions with it….

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.

Certainly, such information could be vital to the protection of police officers who are executing valid search warrants based on probable cause. The problem is that law enforcement has not always sought a warrant before deploying the technology. The USA Today article cites the case of fugitive parolee Steven Denson in which the Marshals Service used the radar device to detect his presence in a house in Wichita, Kansas.

Range-R
L3 Communications

The marshals had an arrest warrant for Denson, but not a search warrant for that location. Interestingly, the marshal's report did not mention the use of the radar; merely that they "had developed a reasonable suspicion" that Denson was in the house. An interesting omission. Denson challenged his arrest arguing that marshal's would not have had a reasonable belief that he was in the house without the use of radar device.

The Tenth Circuit of the U.S. Appeals Court disagreed, noting that the marshals had sufficient independent evidence of his presence, e.g., Denson had opened an electric utility account for the house, a whirring electric meter outside, and the fact that an unemployed Denson was likely to be home at 8:30 a.m. On that basis, the Appeals Court upheld his arrest. The Appeals Court did note…

…the government brought with it a Doppler radar device capable of detecting from outside the home the presence of "human breathing and movement within." All this packed into a hand-held unit "about 10 inches by 4 inches wide, 10 inches long." The government admits that it used the radar before entering — and that the device registered someone's presence inside. It's obvious to us and everyone else in this case that the government's warrantless use of such a powerful tool to search inside homes poses grave Fourth Amendment questions. New technologies bring with them not only new opportunities for law enforcement to catch criminals but also new risks for abuse and new ways to invade constitutional rights. …

Unlawful searches can give rise not only to civil claims but may require the suppression of evidence in criminal proceedings. We have little doubt that the radar device deployed here will soon generate many questions for this court and others along both of these axes. At the same time, in a criminal proceeding like ours the government is free to rely on facts gleaned independently from any Fourth Amendment violation.

The Appeals Court specifically cited the 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Kyllo v. United States in which federal agents scanned a house with a thermal imager with the goal of detecting heat emitted from grow lights used in marijuana cultivation. Based on the imager's finding that a lot of heat was emanating from the suspect's garage, the agents obtained a search warrant and raided the house. The U.S. Supreme Court remanded the case after holding:

Where, as here, the Government uses a device that is not in general public use, to explore details of a private home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a Fourth Amendment "search," and is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant.

On the basis of that standard, if the only clue that Denson was at home were the result of the radar scan, then he presumably would have had a case against the Marshal Service's intrusion into his residence.

In any case, Range-R is certainly not the last word in radar surveillance. USA Today notes:

Other radar devices have far more advanced capabilities, including three-dimensional displays of where people are located inside a building, according to marketing materials from their manufacturers. One is capable of being mounted on a drone. And the Justice Department has funded research to develop systems that can map the interiors of buildings and locate the people within them.

With regard to a person's reasonable expectation of privacy, the majority in Kyllo noted:

…in the case of the search of the interior of homes–the prototypical and hence most commonly litigated area of protected privacy–there is a ready criterion, with roots deep in the common law, of the minimal expectation of privacy that exists, and that is acknowledged to be reasonable. To withdraw protection of this minimum expectation would be to permit police technology to erode the privacy guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. We think that obtaining by sense-enhancing technology any information regarding the interior of the home that could not otherwise have been obtained without physical "intrusion into a constitutionally protected area," Silverman, 365 U.S., at 512, constitutes a search–at least where (as here) the technology in question is not in general public use. This assures preservation of that degree of privacy against government that existed when the Fourth Amendment was adopted. On the basis of this criterion, the information obtained by the thermal imager in this case was the product of a search.

The "not in general public use" standard seems awfully permeable on its face. One dystopian interpretation is that the more widely surveillance technologies are deployed the less reasonable our expectations of privacy will become.

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74 responses to “Police Use Radar Device To See Inside Your House

  1. Only slightly OT and very appropos to the subject at hand.

    This is the DB winning.

  2. Unlawful searches can give rise not only to civil claims but may require the suppression of evidence in criminal proceedings.

    Too bad unlawful searches don’t result in criminal proceedings against the government agents engaging in said unlawful activity.

    1. Exactly

  3. Time to start my Faraday cage housing contractor business!

  4. So, if they use this device, they wouldn’t need to kick in doors and flash bang children, right? Right???

    1. Thats why every cop will need one. For the children.

      1. A cop on every corner, a Range-R doppler… with every cop on… every corner. Oh, and a chicken in every pot and free community college… and healthcare.

        The government giveth, and giveth and giveth.

    2. No, now they can just shoot you right through the wall.

      1. Oooh, now they will know where to throw the flash bang….damn.

      2. I predict a rash of people coming home and finding their dogs dead in the living room with a tiny hole in their outside wall.

  5. There was a previous case where law enforcement was driving around with IR cameras to detect houses containing grow rooms.

    IMHO, these are similar, but the Radar crosses the line. In the case of the IR camera, you are detecting (passively) radiation coming out of the house. Most wouldn’t expect this type of radiation, but it is at least emanating out of the property where someone can intercept and analyze it. On the other hand, the Radar is an active probe. You are sending EM waves into a house, then reading the bounce-out. This, by any definition is a search.

    In the case mentioned here, it seems like the court probably got it right. Even absent the radar, they had good reason to believe that it was his house and that he was in it. The problem is that it is too easy to make this shit up afterwords. Did the cops really check his electric meter, or did they need to make that up? At the end of the day, I don’t see why they couldn’t just go get a fucking search warrant. They knew it was his house- hell they could have staked it out for all I care.

    1. O: Grow house case discussed in blogpost. Just saying.

      You are all too right that “it is too easy to make this shit up afterwards.”

    2. The problem is that it is too easy standard procedure to make this shit up afterwords.

    3. Sorry, but the distinction between passive and active radiation doesn’t feel like a principled basis for controlling the State, to me.

      Howsabout: You aren’t allowed to do indirectly what you are prohibited from doing directly.

      This would do away with drug dogs, IR scanners, radar, etc.

      1. But once you HAVE Range-r Doppler… I mean, come on!

      2. I can understand that, but there is a pretty bright distinction between passive scanning and active scanning.

        Should a cop be allowed to stand on a street corner and watch for criminal activity? If so, then you have already allowed passive scanning. Now, where do you draw the line between an acceptable passive scan and an unacceptable passive scan? I’m not saying there isn’t a bright distinction, but just that I don’t see it.

        Active scanning- any sort of mechanism by which you radiate energy to get information- is easily defined and can be prohibited without a warrant. Likewise, intercepting any information passively by putting a collector anywhere unexpected or non-public (like a cell tower, hotel room, computer) could be easily distinguished from someone standing on a street corner.

        1. Now, where do you draw the line between an acceptable passive scan and an unacceptable passive scan? I’m not saying there isn’t a bright distinction, but just that I don’t see it.

          Something the cop can do with a Mark 1 Eyeball is on the “OK” side of the line, and anything he can’t is on the “Not OK” side of that line.

          So if the cop can’t see in IR without equipment, he can’t do it without a warrant.

          I’m not saying that’s the place the line has to go, but it does seem like a pretty clean line.

      3. Howsabout: You aren’t allowed to do indirectly what you are prohibited from doing directly.

        Penaltax, fucker.

    4. http://www.range-r.com/tech/theory.htm

      The basic RANGE-R concept of operations is shown in Figure 1. The sensor is held against the wall and activated via a pair of buttons (one hand operation). A series of Radar pulses is transmitted through the wall. The pulses are reflected from objects inside the structure. These returns are analyzed as Doppler radar returns, allowing detection of any moving objects in the structure. The sensitivity of the RANGE-R is sufficient to detect people breathing, making it difficult for individuals to hide from RANGE-R.

      This is not a remote sensing technology. Good news — they can’t just drive down the street and scan your house. Bad news — any use with out a warrant is utter bullshit. They are actively probing your house by holding device directly against the side of your house.

      1. RANGE-R uses a type of Doppler Radar known as Stepped Frequency Continuous Wave (SFCW) Radar, where specific frequencies are emitted in a controlled fashion. This approach makes RANGE-R inherently resistant to jamming or interference with other electronics.

      2. RANGE- R will penetrate most common building wall, ceiling or floor types including poured concrete, concrete block, brick, wood, stucco glass, adobe, dirt, etc. However, It will not penetrate metal. RANGE-R will generally penetrate up to one foot of wall thickness without adverse effects. While small metal objects embedded in walls (i.e. rebar, conduits, etc.) usually do not inhibit operation, a large enough metal object can impair operation.

        So Aluminum siding and steel doors. But I assume it will penetrate glass windows without problems.

        1. metal blinds

  6. If you’re going to build your house on a public street, then it’s reasonable to presume that anyone with Range-R Doppler radar is going to look inside.

    /Tulpa

    1. That’s where we will wind up with these, now that we no longer have an unqualified right to be free from search and seizure in the absence of a warrant, but only the right to “reasonable” privacy.

      Defined, of course, by the courts as what you can expect for privacy. IOW, since the state has a bad habit of doing X, you can’t expect that it won’t, so X is perfectly legal.

  7. It’s amazing to me how many people believe with all of their hearts that the civil/human rights violations America engages in abroad during its counter-insurgency and anti-terrorist operations could not possibly blowback and be used on civilians at home. Because we love freedom or something.

    1. …what?

    2. It’s not that, it’s that they don’t care.

      I got into it with a commenter on my local rag over the expansive adoption and use of MRAPs for local police departments. After proving to him that they were essentially being used for noise abatement, he remained steadfast in his belief that they were rooting out Al Qaeda terrorist cells with them.

  8. Well that’s incredibly frightening. Is there no way to block the signal? A Faraday Cage for your home built into the walls? Or a special paint? Alternatively, is there a way to create a ton of white noise to confuse the device?

    1. Cats

      lots and lots and lots of cats

      1. Not worth it. Not even one cat is worth it.

      2. So having all them cats was just part of your master plan?

        Gilmore’s playing 3D checkers.

    2. Catch 22: Use of such products means you have something to hide, thus giving rise to a police search!

      1. They’ll find something anyway.

        Here in Alberta, sale of radar jammers is totes legal.

        1. But you can’t jam more than five radars at a time or something.

      2. Yep. Protecting your privacy = YOU’RE A CRIMINAL.

        1. Yup. See, also, laws against “fortifying” your house.

          1. I’m going to start a Cones of Silence business.

            1. It worked for Hasimir Fenring

    3. Make your house all angular like a stealth fighter.

      1. There is magnetic paint, so you can put fridge magnets on your walls.

        Wonder what that would do? Not really magnetic, but has iron in the paint so magnets will stick.

        1. That could make your house into a Faraday Cage, which would weaken the transmission of radio waves a great deal-I think.

          1. Wouldn’t it be easier to just demand everyone entering the house wear a tinfoil hat?

    4. It’s designed to detect moving objects. It will not give an accurate portrayal of the occupants, just whether or not someone is there and their approximate location.

      1. In other words, they cannot distinguish between your dog and you.

        1. “on the radar, nobody knows if you’re a dog.”

      2. It’s designed to detect moving objects.

        So if, totally hypothetically, I were to be in the habit of sitting in a chair facing the door with a shotgun across my lap, it wouldn’t help with that?

        1. Or if, not so hypothetically, an infant was asleep in a crib in the living room, it wouldn’t help with that, either?

        2. Nope. Doppler techniques only identify moving objects. So the chair-bound commenters of HNR are perfectly safe.

          1. given that they are breathing and tap-tap-tapping away at the internet unceasingly, not so safe after all.

        3. pistol grip pump on my lap at all times

  9. “Certainly, such information could be vital to the protection of police officers who are executing valid search warrants based on probable cause.”

    Or, you know, like, serving a summons for something that should probably be legal anyway.

    Because that radar shit better get used, or else it comes out of the budget.

  10. Maybe now they will know where not to throw the flashbang granades?

  11. Certainly, such information could be vital to the protection of police officers who are executing valid search warrants based on probable cause.

    Or, they could, you know… just KNOCK ON THE FUCKING DOOR AND WAIT FOR SOMEBODY TO ANSWER.

    1. That would be letting the terrorists win

      Besides, why don’t you want the Department of Education to have a SWAT team? Why do you hate children? (eyes brooks suspiciously)

  12. Certainly, such information could be vital to the protection of police officers who are executing valid search warrants based on probable cause.

    Note that the option of not conducting a violent home invasion, as a means of protecting cops, is not mentioned or even thinkable.

  13. Not through my house, they don’t. Tinfoil (actually aluminum foil) layer in the whole attic and outside walls. Plus I keep the thermostat on 99 degrees so they can’t see me with their infrared vision on their stealth helicopters.

    1. I have two heat generating robots engaging in simulated sex in the guest room to distract them from any other activities.

      1. From what other activities are you trying to distract your robots?

    2. Interesting. I’ll have to see whether we have such a layer at Casa Dean.

    3. Iron loaded paint should do the trick.

  14. I keep the thermostat on 99 degrees

    “Sarge, we got us a GROW HOUSE! Saddle up, boys.”

  15. So this is why they wanted to get rid of lead based paint.

      1. Or, if you have a grow house, plants within plans.

  16. So this is why they started banning lead paint in homes….

  17. I have that front door mat!

  18. “MOVEMENT!”

    “Eight meters! Seven! Five! Three meters!”

    “That can’t be right; that’s inside the room!”

    1. Is that from a movie or something?

      1. Nah, completely original.

  19. I have that welcome mat! Love it

  20. One dystopian interpretation is that the more widely surveillance technologies are deployed the less reasonable our expectations of privacy will become.

    I’m not sure if it’s “dystopian” or not, but this seems pretty much how things are going. I mean, just think of the explosion in pocket-carried cameras, applications that track your location, and allow you to signal when you’re in a particular location. i.e.: “Taking a selfie and checking in on Facebook”.

    And I think a lot of people think of that as completely normal.

    If you put one of these doppler radar things inside every cellphone, I can pretty much guarantee that the use of them would be considered “normal”, and as a result, the typical expectation of privacy wouldn’t exclude their use. *shrug*

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