Stephanie Rosendorf – The debate over law enforcement surveillance is nothing new, but with the ever-increasing sophistication of technology, where does one draw the line? The Supreme Court ruled in 2001 in Kyllo v. United States that law enforcement must obtain a warrant in order to use evidence obtained by using thermal energy to monitor the heat in a person’s home. Since then, the debate has continued over how much power the government/law enforcement should have over tracking one’s personal activity and acquiring data without a warrant or the knowledge of other parties.
In fact, more than 50 U.S. law enforcement agencies are now using radar that “effectively lets officers peer through the walls of homes to determine whether anyone is inside.” Agencies have been using the tool, known as Range-R, since 2012. Accordingly, “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 aren’t moving.”
The use of the radar was not revealed to the public until December of 2014, when officers in Denver used the radar on a man’s home before arresting him for parole violations. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the search but recognized that the use of the device will soon raise many questions for the court. The company that produces these devices suggests that they can be helpful in determining the “presence and location of assailants or hostages inside a building prior to entry, locate injured or stranded people inside buildings damaged by earthquakes or flooding, or quickly determine whether people are trapped inside a room or building.”
With the recent hostage-related terrorist attacks, this radar seems on the surface to be a great idea. However, the problem is that as we can see, it is doubtful that law enforcement will solely use this technology to thwart terrorist attacks and rescue hostages during times of crisis. Rather, as illustrated in the 10th Circuit Case, it is possible that law enforcement has found another way to bypass the requirements of the 4th Amendment by taking advantage of equipment that most of society did not even know exists. Christopher Soghoian, the Principal Technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union, has called the new technology “just plain creepy” and hopes that lawmakers will carefully oversee how it is used.
Although right now the technology can only detect whether somebody is inside the home as opposed to actually see what the person is doing, there is no way of knowing whether or not technology will advance to that level in years to come. The notion of “Every Man’s Home is His Castle” is deeply tied to the experience of the colonists and the tenets of the Fourth Amendment. It appears that the slope is becoming even more slippery with the advancements in technological capability coupled with ever-changing national security concerns.