Blog of Rights

"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

School Principals: Students Have Privacy and Free Speech Rights Too!

School Principals: Students Have Privacy and Free Speech Rights Too!

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:05am

One of the technology-related civil liberties battles that ACLU affiliates around the country have been fighting in recent years involves defending students’ rights to privacy and free expression in the new electronic media that are becoming…

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…

Photo of interior of car

Et Tu, Detroit?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 2:35pm

Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.) has again obtained and released information about the privacy practices of private companies in a sensitive area, this time in the form of a report on the practices of automobile manufacturers.

According to the…

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…

Congress Lines Up 3 Bills to Protect Our Emails From Unwarranted Government Intrusion

Congress Lines Up 3 Bills to Protect Our Emails From Unwarranted Government Intrusion

By Kade Crockford, Director, ACLU of Massachusetts Technology for Liberty Project at 10:11am

This blog was originally posted on privacysos.org​

Bipartisan legislation introduced this week in congress by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Ted Poe (R-Texas), and Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) would require police and federal law enforcement to…

An MRAP Is Not a Blanket

An MRAP Is Not a Blanket

By Kara Dansky, Senior Counsel, ACLU Center for Justice at 4:41pm

This August, Americans watched in horror as the police descended on peaceful protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, as though they were going into battle. In May, a toddler named Bou Bou Phonesavanh had his chest ripped open and his face torn off by a flashbang…

Detail from painting "Washington as Statesman at the Constitutional Convention"

Calls For a Constitutional Convention Heating Up in the States

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:47am

(Updated below)

We're hearing from our ACLU affiliates about a new trend in state legislatures: proposals to call for the convening of a constitutional convention. This would be a fairly radical step: although clearly provided for in the Constitution,…