Blog of Rights

It Sure Sounds Like the NSA Is Tracking Our Locations

It Sure Sounds Like the NSA Is Tracking Our Locations

By Patrick C. Toomey, Staff Attorney, ACLU National Security Project at 12:36pm
The drumbeat of “non-denial denials” is getting louder as the NSA continues to refuse to directly state whether it is using cell phone information to track Americans’ whereabouts. When NSA Director Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander was asked again about the NSA’s cell phone location tracking on Thursday — at a hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence — this is how the exchange went:
Victory! Federal Court Recognizes Constitutional Rights of Americans on the No-Fly List

Victory! Federal Court Recognizes Constitutional Rights of Americans on the No-Fly List

By Nusrat Choudhury, Staff Attorney, ACLU Racial Justice Program at 2:31pm

A federal court took a critically important step late yesterday towards placing a check on the government's...

What's the Difference Between Force Feeding and Waterboarding?

What's the Difference Between Force Feeding and Waterboarding?

By Zak Newman, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 10:02am

The Department of Defense this month publicly released its newest rationalization for the abusive force-feeding program at Guantánamo Bay. In this latest memo on hunger strike policies, the abusive force-feeding program is referred to as "medical…

Guantánamo Dispatch: When a Guilty Plea is the Way Out

Guantánamo Dispatch: When a Guilty Plea is the Way Out

By Marcellene Hearn, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU National Security Project at 9:53am

I watched a man yesterday plead guilty to war crimes in a military commission, and it troubled me. It troubled me because just the day before, I watched the defense counsel in another commission proceeding taking place at Guantánamo this week make…

So you think you have nothing to hide...

So you think you have nothing to hide...

By Kade Crockford, Director, ACLU of Massachusetts Technology for Liberty Project at 11:00pm

Governments at the local, state, and federal level increasingly collect troves of sensitive information about where we go, what we read, who we know, what we buy, and more. Some people say they don't care about this silent and ever present surveillance.…

MLK, Spying, and the “Urgency of the Moment”

MLK, Spying, and the “Urgency of the Moment”

By Brett Max Kaufman, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project at 11:44am

Last week, Martin Luther King, Jr. would have celebrated his 85th birthday in an America that, in myriad ways, is a freer, fairer, and more just nation than the one he knew. Today, we pause to remember the man for daring to dream of equality of personhood…

Oklahoma Can't "Save" Itself from the U.S. Constitution

Oklahoma Can't "Save" Itself from the U.S. Constitution

By Chandra Bhatnagar, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Human Rights Program & Daniel Mach at 11:53am

No state should deny its residents the essential right to exercise their religion. No state should target or disfavor any faith. No state should engage in actions that contravene the requirements of the U.S. Constitution, and no state should seek to…

New Proposal Could Singlehandedly Cripple Free Speech Online

New Proposal Could Singlehandedly Cripple Free Speech Online

By Lee Rowland, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project & Gabe Rottman, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 5:10pm

The Internet has evolved into a true marketplace for every idea – if you can think of it, you can find it on the web. That the online world has blossomed into this virtual town square teeming with diverse content is no accident. It is largely a creation…

What if the Government Hid Bugs and Video Cameras in Every American Home?

What if the Government Hid Bugs and Video Cameras in Every American Home?

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

Top government officials have been defending the NSA’s secret collection of phone records of every American. But the argument they are using today to justify mass surveillance of phone calls could be used to justify ANY amount of intrusion into Americans’ private lives. Imagine, for example, what would happen if it were discovered that the NSA had placed a secret microphone and video camera in the living room and bedroom of every home in America. It’s easy to predict how the government would defend that kind of spying. Here is what they would probably say:

  • The audio and video data collected from Americans’ homes do not constitute “surveillance” because nobody watches or listens to the recordings, unless they obtain a warrant. Actually, not a real warrant, or even a subpoena, but permission through an internal NSA process based on—trust us!—very, very strict criteria. Or in a small number of other very exceptional circumstances.
  • The program has been approved by the chairs of the major congressional intelligence committees, as well as the secret FISA Court.
  • While it’s true that even the sweepingly broad Patriot Act requires that data be “relevant” to an investigation, there has never been a requirement that every piece of data in a dataset that is turned over be relevant, only that the data set be generally relevant . When it comes to the mass of data that we are collecting from people’s homes, we know there is relevant information in there, and if we don’t preserve that data, we won’t be able to find it when we need it.
  • At least 50 acts of terrorism-like crimes have been prevented. We can’t release details of these successes, but they include several people caught building bomb-like objects in their kitchens, two instances in which women who were kidnapped years ago were found being kept prisoner within private homes, and numerous instances of domestic violence.

All of the arguments above are essentially what the NSA’s current defenders have been saying. My point is that there are few limits to the spying that their arguments could be used to justify.

The idea of the NSA secretly visiting every home in America to hide audio and video bugs inside may seem far-fetched, but what they have actually done is not quite as different as it might seem. It was not long ago that in order for the government to collect telephone metadata (all telephone numbers called and received), the authorities had to attach telephone bugs known as “pen register” and “trap and trace” devices to a home’s physical telephone line. Today it no longer needs to do that, but its mass collection of telephone metadata accomplishes the same end through virtual means, and just because the technology makes it possible to carry out such spying through the reshuffling of digital files at telephone central offices, doesn’t mean it’s any less intrusive than if the NSA were to physically attach a bug on the telephone wires outside every home.

VIDEO: Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) Undergoes Force-Feeding Endured by Guantánamo Hunger Strikers

VIDEO: Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) Undergoes Force-Feeding Endured by Guantánamo Hunger Strikers

By Noa Yachot, Communications Strategist, ACLU at 1:40pm

In a video posted today by The Guardian, rapper Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def...