Blog of Rights

Writers, Lawmakers, and the NRA Support ACLU Challenge to NSA Spying

Writers, Lawmakers, and the NRA Support ACLU Challenge to NSA Spying

By Noa Yachot, Communications Strategist, ACLU at 10:04am
Updated (09/05/2013): An impressive array of organizations and individuals filed amicus briefs yesterday in support of the ACLU's constitutional challenge to the government's collection of the call records of virtually everyone in the United States. The range of voices joining the protest against mass government surveillance—not to mention the bipartisan storm that has swept Congress since the recent NSA disclosures — is a real testament to the fact that the government's dragnet surveillance practices are offensive to Americans from across the political spectrum.
Oliver Stone: Don’t Stand By While the NSA’s Surveillance Machine Eats Our Civil Liberties

Oliver Stone: Don’t Stand By While the NSA’s Surveillance Machine Eats Our Civil Liberties

By Noa Yachot, Communications Strategist, ACLU at 10:01am

After The Guardian and The Washington Post revealed the astonishing scope of some of the NSA...

"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

Edward Snowden to Talk Privacy With the Tech Community at SXSW

Edward Snowden to Talk Privacy With the Tech Community at SXSW

By Noa Yachot, Communications Strategist, ACLU at 9:49am

In his first conversation in front of an audience since his disclosures began making global headlines last year, Edward Snowden will appear via live video next Monday at SXSW Interactive, the festival that brings together tens of thousands of technology…

ACLU Seeks Information About Pentagon Infiltration of “World of Warcraft”

ACLU Seeks Information About Pentagon Infiltration of “World of Warcraft”

By Rita Cant, Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project & Lee Rowland, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 12:44pm

Picture it. You’re online, ensconced in a muscled avatar, hacking your way through a World of Warcraft quest. A burly blacksmith appears on screen, and instead of brandishing a blunderbuss, turns to you and whispers: “Nothing is better than joining…

Game Theory and Privacy

Game Theory and Privacy

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:27am

Earlier this week in “The Flawed Logic of Secret Mass Surveillance” I presented some thinking about the dynamics of mass surveillance and what that suggests about how things are likely to play out in the future with regards to the NSA’s spying.…

The $338,000 Internet Comment

The $338,000 Internet Comment

By Lee Rowland, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 12:00am

We’ve written before about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1998 — a federal law that protects the robust diversity of free speech we’ve come to know and love (and hate) on the Internet. Last night, the ACLU and the ACLU of Kentucky…

What Makes Presidents Turn Into Hard Core Defenders of the Security State? Seven Possible Explanations

What Makes Presidents Turn Into Hard Core Defenders of the Security State? Seven Possible Explanations

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:45am

I recently wrote about how it can be useful to think of our national security state in institutional rather than personal or political terms—as a gigantic organism that displays certain consistent behaviors. And I speculated about how this organism can be both less intelligent and less moral than the individuals who make it up.

At the same time, it is undoubtedly true that some individuals within the national security state—the leadership—have great direct power to alter its character and direction. So why don’t they? Those individuals come from a wide variety of political and life backgrounds. But despite that fact, the overall behavior of the security establishment seems to be relatively consistent.

This is true up to the presidential level. In interviews about his whistleblowing decision, Edward Snowden has talked about his disillusionment with President Obama when it comes to reining in the national security state. This is a disillusionment that we share. Before he took office Obama seemed sympathetic to the criticism of the Bush Administration over the excesses of the national security state. So what happened?

FBI Documents Suggest Feds Read Emails Without a Warrant

FBI Documents Suggest Feds Read Emails Without a Warrant

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:31am

New documents from the FBI and U.S. Attorneys’ offices paint a troubling picture of the government’s email surveillance practices. Not only does the FBI claim it can read emails and other electronic communications without a warrant—even after a federal appeals court ruled that doing so violates the Fourth Amendment—but the documents strongly suggest that different U.S. Attorneys’ offices around the country are applying conflicting standards to access communications content (you can see the documents here).

Last month, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the ACLU received IRS documents indicating that the agency’s criminal investigative arm doesn’t always get a warrant to read Americans’ emails. Today we are releasing these additional documents from other federal law enforcement agencies, reinforcing the urgent need for Congress to protect our privacy by updating the laws that cover electronic communications.

The FBI and Electronic Communications: Where’s the Warrant?

The documents we received from the FBI don’t flat out tell us whether FBI agents always get warrants, but they strongly suggest that they don’t.

In 2010, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decided in United States v. Warshak that the government must obtain a probable cause warrant before compelling email providers to turn over messages to law enforcement. But that decision only applies in the four states covered by the Sixth Circuit, so we filed our FOIA request to find out whether the FBI

Nothing to See Here! Censoring 'The Innocence of Muslims'

Nothing to See Here! Censoring 'The Innocence of Muslims'

By Lee Rowland, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 1:32pm

It's likely you haven't escaped the roiling controversy generated by the film The Innocence of Muslims. This "film" has alternately been described as: a deliberate provocation of Muslims, a launching point for a conversation about free speech, a trigger…