Through the looking glass: Warrant-less wonderland for new police radar

Privacy news
3 mins

This post was originally published on January 27, 2015.

Who’s peering through your windows late at night? Hopefully no one, but that’s why homeowners shell out for pricey security systems, cameras and even basic privacy tools like blinds. But as a recent Discovery News article reports, the law enforcement might also be snooping around — and doing so without a warrant — thanks to new technology known as Range-R Radar. Yikes!

Seeing is Believing?

Range-R got its start in the military but like many battlefield advancements has experienced steady stateside police adoption over the last few years. The device wasn’t talked about much until recently, when it was used without a warrant by Denver law enforcement. USA Today reports that in December 2014, Range-R was part of a police operation to find and apprehend a man who had violated his parole — officers used it to check his home and determine if he was inside. Defense lawyers argued that this new radar technology violated Fourth Amendment rights and while judges upheld the new arrest, wrote they had “little doubt that the radar device deployed here will soon generate many questions for the court.”

So what’s the big deal? Can Range-R really see through walls? Yes, and no. Unlike thermal cameras — which produce an image and require a warrant to use — this new radar only detects motion relative to stationary objects, but its sensitivity is off the charts; from 50 feet away it can determine if people are inside a house — and if they’re breathing. The system uses a Doppler motion detector operating on the microwave bandwidth and is touted as a great step forward for law enforcement, especially when it comes to high-risk arrests. The problem? With no warrants are required, and ordinary citizens are spooked about how this technology could impact their privacy.

Caller Beware

While the new radar is understandably making waves, this isn’t the first instance of technological space invasion — if anything, both the physical and digital worlds are primed to become more monitored than ever. Consider the TeenSafe application, brain child of parents like Ameeta Jain, who grew weary of telling her children to text or call and never getting and answer. By installing this “covert app” on kids’ phones, concerned parents can monitor cell phone use, read text messages and view social media posts. A great idea for digitally naïve teens? Absolutely. But the app is in no way limited by age group or intended use — and in the wrong hands, this is big trouble.

And speaking of children, it’s worth noting that a U.S. District Court judge recently threw out a class-action lawsuit from parents on behalf of children under the age of 13 who visited the Nickelodeon website. Both Viacom and Google both asked kids for personal information such as gender and birthday and then used that information to create targeted advertising campaigns. Although Judge Stanley Chesler noted that the plaintiffs “identified conduct that may be worthy of further legislative and executive attention,” he found that there was no “existing and applicable legal authority to support their claims.” Bottom line? Tracking kids may be morally bankrupt, but there’s no law on the books to back up that sentiment.

Getting Worse

According to a January 23rd article from RT, things are only going downhill from here. Sir David Omand, a Commissioner of the Global Commission on Internet Governance, argues that increasingly sophisticated encryption methods being used by big companies and mobile apps will prompt spy agencies to commit “ethically worse” behavior to get information they want. After the recent Paris shootings, for example, several governments have begun talking about more expansive Web monitoring — up to and including reading all texts, looking at photos and scanning emails sent by anyone, anywhere.

Looking In

So who’s really looking in? When it comes to your house, it’s possible the police are using new-fangled radar to spy on your wild nights of Internet surfing but on a larger scale, just about every company and every government wants to know your digital details. At ExpressVPN, we’re privacy advocates; your IP address, your surfing habits and your downloads are nobody’s business. When it comes to home-piercing microwave radar, though…maybe try aluminum foil?

Featured Image: Highway Patrol Images / Flickr

ExpressVPN is dedicated to your online security and privacy. Posts from this account will focus on company news or significant privacy and security stories.