Traveling in today’s America is becoming more and more constrained. Every year, there are more checks, more searches, and more guards. If you go by car, ALPR systems will track you. If you go by plane, you and your belongings can be legally searched, groped, mocked, impounded or vandalized. If you stay in a motel, your information may be shared up front with law enforcement. And now, even the trains are getting on the act.
The aptly-named PapersPlease.org filed a Freedom of Information Act request last October asking how Amtrak handled sharing of information with the Department of Homeland Security. While Amtrak is regularly subsidized, it is legally a private company, and as such should not share information on passengers unless the police provide them with a valid, individualized probable-cause warrant. You know, that old Fourth Amendment thing?
Over the last two years, at least 50 law enforcement agencies around the United States have used radar devices that allow them to peer through walls and into your home without a warrant, according to USA Today. The devices, each of which costs nearly $6,000, detect movement – even breathing – through walls and up to 50 feet away.
According to contracts obtained by USA Today, the US Marshals Service began buying the radars in 2012 and has since spent $180,000 on the equipment – enough for thirty Range-R radars manufactured by L-3 Communications. Disturbingly, the radars can even be mounted on a drone.
The devices were originally manufactured for use in Iraq and Afghanistan ,but have made their way onto domestic soil, providing yet another example of how the use of military gear by police results in an infringement of our fundamental right to be free of unreasonable and warrantless searches and seizures.
It may be true that “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” as President Obama declared in the wake of revelations of the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance programs, but the fact remains that the devices we use are constantly leaking private information – our location, who we talk to, the duration of our calls, Wi-Fi networks we have connected to in the past, unique identification numbers of our mobile devices, and so on. Criminal hackers, corporate actors and governments around the world are ecstatic about the weak standards, backdoors, and exploits that they can use to vacuum up data about you, while your Fourth Amendment right to be free from warrantless searches and seizures is shoved as far as possible into an unregarded corner.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal revealed the existence of yet another dragnet surveillance program – this time, it’s run by the U.S. Marshals: