Blog of Rights

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 Data: Privacy Threat or Business Model?”
North Carolina's Badge of Dishonor

North Carolina's Badge of Dishonor

By Louise Melling, Director, Center of Liberty; Deputy Legal Director, ACLU & Becca Cadoff, Reproductive Freedom Project at 10:06am

Yesterday, Governor Pat McCrory broke his word and ignored his constituents when he signed the #motorcyclevagina bill, which includes sweeping anti-abortion provisions that could force clinics across the state to close.

McCrory's signing follows…

Modification of image by rachaelvoorhees via Flickr

Police Hide Use of Cell Phone Tracker From Courts Because Manufacturer Asked

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 9:01am

It appears that at least one police department in Florida has failed to tell judges about its use of a cell phone tracking device because the department got the device on loan and promised the manufacturer to keep it all under wraps. But when police…

What Could Justify Using a Taser on an 8-Year-Old Girl?

What Could Justify Using a Taser on an 8-Year-Old Girl?

By Heather Smith, Communications Director, ACLU of South Dakota & Sarah Solon, Communications Strategist, ACLU at 12:34pm


That’s how the Pierre Police Department described an incident several days ago where an officer fired his Taser at an 8-year-old girl after receiving a report that she had stabbed herself in the leg and appeared suicidal.


Loving v. Virginia Still Relevant 40 Years Later

By Dennis Parker, Director, ACLU Racial Justice Program at 3:51pm

More than 40 years after the U.S. Supreme Court declared laws barring interracial marriage unconstitutional, it was upsetting to learn that a Louisiana justice of the peace has denied a marriage license to an interracial couple. On one hand, the public's…

15-Year-Old Gets Six Life Sentences?

15-Year-Old Gets Six Life Sentences?

By Alex Stamm, ACLU Center for Justice at 1:27pm

At gunpoint, two 18-year-olds and a 15-year-old robbed a dozen other teenagers at a house party, taking money, phones, and marijuana. No shots were fired, but one of the 18-year-olds struck someone with the butt of his gun.

The crime is unquestionably…

Private Prisons Are the Problem, Not the Solution

Private Prisons Are the Problem, Not the Solution

By Margaret Winter, National Prison Project & Gabriel Eber, ACLU National Prison Project at 4:38pm

For the past two years, the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center have been investigating and exposing a horrifying pattern of abuse against juveniles and the mentally ill in two Mississippi prisons operated by the GEO Group, one of the biggest…

Police Abuse of Power, Plain and Simple, in Etowah County, Alabama

Police Abuse of Power, Plain and Simple, in Etowah County, Alabama

By Brandon Buskey, ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project & Ezekiel Edwards, Director, ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project at 1:27pm

The Etowah County Sheriff's Office has a Fourth Amendment problem.

About once a month, a marked sheriff's car shows up, unannounced and after dark, outside a family's home in Alabama. Uniformed officers walk to the family's door, in plain sight…

"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

Hamas, Twitter and the First Amendment

Hamas, Twitter and the First Amendment

By Gabe Rottman, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 3:25pm

With one major exception, the Roberts Court has been quite protective of unpopular (and even revolting) speech under the First Amendment. That exception, however, is a doozy. It involves a statute criminalizing “material support” for terrorism,…