FBI Says Warrants Not Needed For Cell - Tower Simulators Used In Public Areas - February-March, 2015

FBI Says Warrants Not Needed For Cell -
Tower Simulators Used In Public Areas

A recent article describing law enforcement use of “Stingrays,” or cell-site simulators, or ISMI catchers -- that can capture cell-phone calls and texts and locations and identities of cell-phone users -- reported on a letter from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and Senator Chuck Grassley to the Attorney General, expressing their concerns in response to a statement from the FBI that warrants were not necessary for use of the device in public areas.  That is, the FBI believes there is an exception to the warrant requirement where “the technology is used in public places or other locations at which the FBI deems there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Source:  http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/01/fbi-says-search-warrants-not-needed-to-use-stringraysinpublic-places/

Hand-Held Radar Sensors Used
Without Warrants

An article in USAToday described law enforcement use of Range-R units, which are hand-held sensors manufactured by L-3 Communications.  The $6,000.00 devices have apparently been in use for several years (article notes that the U.S. Marshall’s service has already spent $180,000.00), although the use has been largely unknown.  The device can detect movement – even as slight as breathing through walls, and to a distance of about 50 feet. 

The article referenced a United States 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision [United States v. Denson, decided December 30, 2014 (Docket No. 13-3329)], as being one of the first to mention use of the technology.  In Denson, the Marshalls had an arrest warrant for a parole violator, but had no search warrant.  The Range-R was utilized without a warrant to verify that someone was present inside before the officers ever entered the home,.  The Court of Appeals upheld the use of the device, partly because there were other indicators that signaled someone was present inside, and due to a lack of detailed information about the device’s capabilities.  The court did recognize the potential dangers:  “It's obvious to us and everyone else in this case that the government's warrantless use of such a powerful tool to search inside homes poses grave Fourth Amendment questions … We don't doubt for a moment that the rise of increasingly sophisticated and invasive search technologies will invite us to venture down this way again - and soon … We don't doubt that the use of such devices could well wind up undoing the justification for a good number of protective sweeps in the future.  But we lack enough information to reach that result in this case.”

Sources:  Brad Heath, “new police radars can ‘see’ inside homes,” http://USAtoday.com, January 20, 2015: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/01/19/police-radar-see-through walls/22007615/;http://www.range-r.com/FAQ/index.htm

by Neil Leithauser
Associate Editor