At least 50 U.S. law enforcement agencies have quietly acquired technology that allows them to essentially "see" inside people's houses, and they're deploying it "with little notice to the courts," USA Today reports.
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.
Current and former federal officials told USA Today that the information gained from the Range-R radar is crucial for keeping law enforcement agents safe, especially during high-risk situations like hostage rescues.
But Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Huffington Post that this new tool raises some serious concerns.
"This technology is just plain creepy, and it’s essential that new surveillance methods aren’t allowed to evade the protections of the Fourth Amendment," Soghoian said in a statement. "Constitutional privacy protections are all the more important when police adopt devices that can literally see through the walls of our homes without us ever knowing about it."
The Supreme Court has generally held that police need a warrant to peer inside people's homes with technology that is "not in general public use."
Though this radar has been employed by law enforcement for at least two years, according to USA Today, it was just recently revealed to the public in a December federal appeals court ruling. The judges expressed concern that the radar was used by police seeking to arrest a man accused of violating his parole, but upheld the search for other reasons.
Soghoian said that with technology this invasive, it's important for public officials to carefully monitor how it's deployed.
"There has to be serious oversight of police use of this technology from both judges and legislators," Soghoian said.