NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

New Law Enforcement Radars Pose Fourth Amendment Questions

January 21, 2015

There are now devices that allow law enforcement officers to "see" inside buildings and homes, and, according to a report by Brad Health in USA Today, 50 law enforcement agencies now have the devices.

The radar devices are extremely sensitive to movements and noise -- according to Heath, they can sense human breathing inside a home from 50 feet away. With the tools, officers can determine whether people are inside buildings -- and where inside the buildings they are.

What do the radars mean for privacy and the Fourth Amendment? They certainly raise questions. Heath notes that the Supreme Court has previously said that the police cannot scan homes with thermal cameras without warrants. More recently, it ruled in 2013 that allowing a drug dog to sniff outside of a home was a "search" that violated the Fourth Amendment.

According to Health, the radar issue has only been addressed in one federal court so far. In December 2014, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals said, "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," saying it had "little doubt that the radar device deployed here will soon generate many questions for this court and others."

Source: Brad Health, "New police radars can 'see' inside homes," USA Today, January 20, 2015.  


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