Police around the country are using more and more technologies to monitor us in our homes, often without probable cause, and privacy advocates warn Americans are on the verge of losing all privacy from their local governments.
The latest flash point in this debate came in Tuesday’s edition of USA Today. That story detailed a fairly new type of radar that allows police to closely monitor activity in any home they wish to investigate.
“They’re called doppler radar devices. What they do is they can see in the home. If you’re a breathing, living human being, they can actually get the outline of your body and know where you’re at,” said Rutherford Institute President John Whitehead, who is also author of “A Government of Wolves” The Emerging American Police State.”
This type of radar has been used by law enforcement since 2012. According to USA Today, the existence of this technology came to light after a federal appeals court in Denver blasted law enforcement for using the technology without a warrant.
Whitehead says obtaining a warrant before using the radar on a private residence gives it constitutional clearance, but any police using it without going through the appropriate legal channels are guilty of infringing on the privacy rights of citizens.
“Before the government does surveillance, they have to have probable cause, which means some evidence of illegality. With these types of devices, they can drive by your home now and just see if you’re at home. If they want to come in under various laws now that allow them to do this, they can come into your home while you’re gone, knowing you’re not there and download all the information off your computer or other electronic devices,” said Whitehead.
According to Whitehead, this radar is just the tip of the iceberg. He says some police departments have laser guns that can detect the presence of alcohol in cars, allowing officers to call ahead and have a colleague pull over someone who may never have been drinking. Another tool becoming more common is a stingray device dispensed to local police through the Department of Homeland Security.
“They drive by your home. [The device] is inside the car, but it acts as a fake cell phone tower. It actually can download whatever you’re doing on your laptop or your cell phone,” said Whitehead.
He says another concern are mobile body scanners invading our privacy.
“It fits inside a van. They drive by your house and they can see the outline of you. It’s like when you fly at airports and you have to go through those scanning machines. They can see the outline of your body in your home. you don’t even know it,” said Whitehead, who alleges the scanners are being used unconstitutionally in many cases.
“They’re not getting warrants. They’ve been using them secretly. They’re handed out by the federal government, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security,” he said. “As long as there’s a warrant issued, you fit within the Constitution. The problem we’re seeing now is they’re using them secretly.”
In addition to emerging methods of conducting surveillance from the ground, Whitehead says governments can keep tabs on you from the air.
“A number of these devices are attached to drones. Drones now legally fly over the United States. They can fly over your home and actually scan you inside your home. You don’t even know it,” said Whitehead.
“Do we have any privacy in our homes now?” he asked. “I would say probably not.”
In addition to the daunting task of pushing back against government infringement of our privacy rights at all levels of government, Whitehead admits the first problem is the sheer number of Americans unconcerned about invasive surveillance.
“Most people aren’t concerned, but as I’ve seen in former countries that have turned the wrong way in history, when the government does a lot of things people are comfortable [until] hey start focusing on someone who speaks out,” said Whitehead. ”
For example, if you go to a local city council meeting and you oppose the government, you can get in a lot of trouble. They’ll have all kinds of information, including your electronic banking. They know how much money you spend, where you spend , where you spend it, what books you read. Eventually this stuff does come home. History teaches us that,” he said.
When it comes to fighting back on the policy front, Whitehead is pushing lawmakers at all levels to pass an electronic privacy bill of rights. He says one of the core tenets of that should be for citizens to see exactly what their government knows about them.
“Number one, it should be available to the public. If they’re shooting images of me, I should be able to go see it somewhere or tap into it on the internet. Number two, it shouldn’t be used against you in a court of law because it does violate the Constitution,” said Whitehead.
So where can citizens begin to fight back? Whitehead urges people to start as close to home as possible.
“Local citizens can get together and create oversight boards and force their local city councils to rein in all this equipment. The police should tell you if they have it and how they’re using it. They should do quarterly reports,” said Whitehead.
“That’s going to take average American citizen getting down to their local city council meeting. You can do it, but you’re going to have to get organized. If you want a free future for your children and your grandchildren, then you better get involved in your local governments and rein this stuff in,” he said.
Whitehead says much more material on emerging law enforcement surveillance tactics can be found at rutherford.org.