Are police cruising through your neighborhood using radar that can see inside your home?
The disclosure Tuesday by USA Today that at least 50 law enforcement agencies including the FBI are using a new radar technology that can detect movements inside buildings, even breathing, from distances of 50 feet or more is prompting deep concern from both the Republican chairman and the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“We appreciate the potential law enforcement value of these devices,” Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat, wrote Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday. “However, technology that can essentially look inside peoples’ homes presents privacy concerns of the highest order.
“There has been little to no public discussion of this technology and it is unclear whether agencies are obtaining any legal process -- let alone a warrant -- prior to deploying it.”
Both Grassley and Leahy are longtime champions of protecting Americans’ privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment. They noted that, “unsurprisingly,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit recently noted “obvious” and “grave” constitutional concerns about use of the radar technology, which law enforcement agencies like because it can help protect officers who are about to storm buildings or in other circumstances.
The senators’ letter came less than a month after they raised similar concerns with Holder and Secretary Jeh Johnson about the use of cell-site simulators, sometimes called “Stingrays” or “dirtboxes,” that can sweep up the cell phone signals of innocent Americans and effectively put them under surveillance without their knowledge.
“This pattern of revelations raises questions about whether the Justice Department is doing enough to ensure that -- prior to these technologies’ first use -- law enforcement officials address their privacy implications, seek appropriate legal process and fully inform the courts and Congress about how they work,” Grassley and Leahy wrote. “There is also a question about how many other new technologies are being used by law enforcement agencies that raise similar privacy concerns.”