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

Photo of police officer speaking to civilian

Should Officers Be Permitted to View Body Camera Footage Before Writing Their Reports?

By Peter Bibring, Director of Police Practices for the ACLU of Southern California & Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 12:14pm

Update below

A police officer wearing a body camera shoots a civilian. Afterwards, the officer has to write up a report about the incident. Should the officer be able to view the footage captured by his body camera (or other cameras) before…

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…

This Secret Domestic Surveillance Program Is About to Get Pulled Out of the Shadows

This Secret Domestic Surveillance Program Is About to Get Pulled Out of the Shadows

By Julia Harumi Mass, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Northern California & Hugh Handeyside, Staff Attorney, ACLU National Security Project at 4:32pm

The federal government will have to produce information on a vast and secret domestic surveillance program and defend the program's legality in open court. That's the result of a decision issued Friday by the federal judge presiding over our lawsuit…

Cell phone tower

Cell Phone Records Can Show Where You Sleep and Where You Pray

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:29am

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has become the latest federal appeals court to consider the question of whether law enforcement needs a warrant before it obtains cell phone location data. We have (with allies) filed an amicus brief in this case,…

Eight Problems With “Big Data”

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 3:06pm

The idea of “Big Data” is in the air. At the South by Southwest Interactive conference last month, it was probably the hot topic, dominating or surfacing in numerous panels, including one on which I spoke, on “Big…

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…

Invasion of the Data Snatchers: Big Data and the Internet of Things Means the Surveillance of Everything

Invasion of the Data Snatchers: Big Data and the Internet of Things Means the Surveillance of Everything

By Catherine Crump, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project & Matthew Harwood, Media Strategist, ACLU at 11:18am

This piece originally ran at TomDispatch.com.

Estimates vary, but by 2020 there could be over 30 billion devices connected to the Internet. Once dumb, they will have smartened up thanks to sensors and other technologies embedded in…

Blurry Street by Thomas Hawk

Documents in ACLU Case Reveal More Detail on FBI Attempt to Cover Up Stingray Technology

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:46am

What is used by dozens of local law enforcement agencies around the country, featured in numerous news stories, and discussed in court, yet treated by the FBI like it is top secret? That would be "Stingray" cell phone surveillance gear, of course.

This…

Modification of image by jpstanley with map by jepoirrier via Flickr

Cell Tower Dumps: Another Surveillance Technique, Another Set of Unanswered Questions

By Katie Haas, Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project at 11:58am

Today, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI, the DEA, the Secret Service, and several other agencies asking for information about a surveillance technique known as a “cell tower dump.” If you’re wondering what that…