Blog of Rights

Trickle Down Surveillance

Trickle Down Surveillance

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:22am
Cell site simulators, also known as "stingrays," are devices that trick cellphones into reporting their locations and identifying information. They do so by mimicking cellphone towers and sending out electronic cues that allow the police to enlist cellphones as tracking devices, thus revealing people's movements with great precision. The equipment also sends intrusive electronic signals through the walls of private homes and offices, learning information about the locations and identities of phones inside. Initially the domain of the National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence agencies, the use of stingrays has trickled down to federal, state and local law enforcement. In one Florida case, a police officer explained in court that he "quite literally stood in front of every door and window" with his stingray to track the phones inside a large apartment complex.
Government Doesn’t Need Your Private Info for Cybersecurity—But Members of Congress Still Want It

Government Doesn’t Need Your Private Info for Cybersecurity—But Members of Congress Still Want It

By Robyn Greene, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 1:33pm

Last Thursday, the House Intelligence Committee held a hearing that focused on...

A Message From Edward Snowden, One Year Later

A Message From Edward Snowden, One Year Later

By Edward Snowden at 5:25pm

Below is an email ACLU supporters received from Edward Snowden this morning, one year to the day since The Guardian broke the first in a series of revelations exposing the breathtaking scope of U.S. government surveillance. Click here for a new…

"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

Photo of Stingray from U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Documents Reveal Unregulated Use of Stingrays in California

By Linda Lye, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Northern California at 4:37pm

Local law enforcement agencies across the Bay Area have so-called stingray devices, a powerful cellphone surveillance tool, and more are planning to acquire the technology, according to public records recently obtained by Sacramento News10. The devices…

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,…

Fix FISA

The Privacy Oversight Board Should Have Listened to Senator Obama

By Alex Abdo, Staff Attorney, ACLU National Security Project at 5:20pm

In 2008, Barack Obama, then a U.S. senator, realized that if an important surveillance law were to pass, Americans’ right to privacy in their international communications would be (in the later words of the Department of Justice) “significantly…

Victory: No Fly List Process Ruled Unconstitutional

Victory: No Fly List Process Ruled Unconstitutional

By Hina Shamsi, Director, ACLU National Security Project & Hugh Handeyside, Staff Attorney, ACLU, National Security Project at 12:00am

A secret government watchlist that traps innocent Americans in a Kafkaesque nightmare was dealt a major blow yesterday.

A federal court in Oregon struck down as unconstitutional the government's system for challenging inclusion on the No Fly…

The Government is Spying on You: ACLU Releases New Evidence of Overly Broad Surveillance of Everyday Activities

The Government is Spying on You: ACLU Releases New Evidence of Overly Broad Surveillance of Everyday Activities

By Julia Harumi Mass, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Northern California & Michael German, Senior Policy Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 10:15am

This was originally posted by the ACLU of Northern California.

For years, we at the ACLU have been warning that the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative – a vast information sharing program that encourages the collection and…

filing cabinet

U.S. Marshals Seize Local Cops’ Cell Phone Tracking Files in Extraordinary Attempt to Keep Information From Public

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 12:13pm

A run-of-the-mill public records request about cell phone surveillance submitted to a local police department in Florida has unearthed blatant violations of open government laws, including an incredible seizure of state records by the U.S. Marshals…