Blog of Rights

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DEA Planned to Monitor Gun Show Attendees With License Plate Readers, New Emails Reveal

By Bennett Stein, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project & Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 6:40pm
The Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives collaborated on plans to monitor gun show attendees using automatic license plate readers, according to a newly disclosed DEA email obtained by the ACLU through the Freedom of Information Act.
"Drones" vs "UAVs" -- What's Behind A Name?

"Drones" vs "UAVs" -- What's Behind A Name?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 9:00am

Representatives of the drone industry and other drone boosters often make a point of saying they don’t like to use the word “drones.” When my colleague Catherine Crump and I were writing our drones report in 2011, we talked over what terminology we should use, and decided that since our job was to communicate, we should use the term that people would most clearly and directly understand. That word is “drones.”

Drone proponents would prefer that everyone use the term “UAV,” for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or “UAS,” for Unmanned Aerial System (“system” in order to encompass the entirety of the vehicle that flies, the ground-based controller, and the communications connection that connects the two). These acronyms are technical, bland, and bureaucratic. That’s probably their principal advantage from the point of view of those who want to separate them from the ugly, bloody, and controversial uses to which they’ve been put by the CIA and U.S. military overseas.

I suppose there is a case to be made that domestic drones are a different thing from overseas combat drones. Certainly, there’s a wide gulf separating a $17 million Reaper drone armed with Hellfire missiles and a hand-launched hobbyist craft buzzing around somebody’s back yard. But drone proponents themselves would be the first to say that drones are a tool—one that can be used for many different purposes. They can be used for fun, photography, science, surveillance, and yes, raining death upon people with the touch of a button from across the world. Even the overseas military uses of drones vary, including not just targeted killing but also surveillance and logistics.

Putting aside well-founded fears that even domestically we may someday see the deployment of weaponized drones, in the end, the difference between overseas and domestic drones is a difference in how the same tool is used. Regardless of whether you’ve got a Predator, a Reaper, a police craft, or a $150 backyard hobby rotorcraft, that tool is what it is. What it is is a drone.

I can’t touch on this subject without quoting from George Orwell’s famous essay “Politics and the English Language,” in which Orwell argued that bland and needlessly complicated language was a political act—a symptom of attempts to cover up

You May Have 'Nothing to Hide' But You Still Have Something to Fear

You May Have 'Nothing to Hide' But You Still Have Something to Fear

By Alex Abdo, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project at 10:17am

In the wake of recent news that the NSA is spying on Americans, I have been particularly struck by the argument...

closeup of camera lens

Body-Worn Cameras Should Not Expand Beyond Law Enforcement

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 12:34pm

The Guardian reported last week that Miami Beach is planning on expanding the use of body cameras beyond the police to include “meter maids,” code enforcement officers, and building and fire inspectors. This use of the technology does not make…

Keeping the Government Out of Your Smartphone

Keeping the Government Out of Your Smartphone

By Chris Soghoian, Principal Technologist and Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project at 11:48am

Smartphones can be a cop's best friend. They are packed with private information like emails, text messages, photos, and calling history. Unsurprisingly, law enforcement agencies now routinely seize and search phones. This occurs at traffic stops,…

The Lone-Wolf Terror Trap: Why the Cure Will Be Worse Than the Disease

The Lone-Wolf Terror Trap: Why the Cure Will Be Worse Than the Disease

By Matthew Harwood, Media Strategist, ACLU at 11:24am

This piece originally appeared at TomDispatch.

The shadow of a new threat seems to be darkening the national security landscape: the lone-wolf terrorist.

"The lone wolf is the new nightmare," wrote Washington Post columnist Charles…

Image of radio signal in sky

ACLU Fights for Limits on Secret Phone Tracking

By Samia Hossain, William J. Brennan Fellow, ACLU Speech, Privacy, & Technology Project at 11:08am

In March of this year, Robert Harrison had a cell phone with him while he was inside his home. Though he has kept and used a cell phone as long as any of us, this time, things were different.

Unbeknownst to Harrison, Baltimore police officers…

DEA Discloses Bulk Surveillance of Americans’ International Phone Calls

DEA Discloses Bulk Surveillance of Americans’ International Phone Calls

By Patrick C. Toomey, Staff Attorney, ACLU National Security Project at 4:37pm

Update (1/212014): The ACLU has filed a Freedom of Information Act request demanding that the DEA and other federal agencies release further information to the public about this database. The recent revelation of the DEA’s bulk phone records…

Former FBI Agent Mike German Talks About the NSA

Former FBI Agent Mike German Talks About the NSA

The interview below, in which Faith Braverman speaks to ACLU Senior Policy Counsel Michael German, was first published by The Daily Caller.

Mike German is a 16-year veteran of the FBI, where he served as a special agent in domestic terrorism.…

Charlie Hebdo, The Interview, and Censoring Torture Photos

Charlie Hebdo, The Interview, and Censoring Torture Photos

By Jameel Jaffer, ACLU Deputy Legal Director and Director of ACLU Center for Democracy at 11:55am

This post was first published by Just Security.

Update (1/21/15): The federal court hearing on the release of the torture photos, originally scheduled for yesterday, has been rescheduled for February 3.

In France and the United States,…