US drug squad cops: We snooped on innocent Americans' phone calls too!

Who isn't slurping up metadata in the Land of the Free?

Tony Montana on the phone in Scarface

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has admitted that for years it kept a secret log of phone calls made by American citizens calling overseas.

Much like the secret NSA and FBI databases, the DEA got its information under subpoena from American telecommunications companies, irrespective of whether or not the target had committed any crime. The dialing and receiving number were stored, along with the data and time of the call, and who it was billed to.

The admission came in court documents [PDF] made public on Thursday relating to calls made to a person in Iran. The DEA didn't say which countries were also on its must-track database, other than to say they were states "that were determined to have a demonstrated nexus to international drug trafficking and related criminal activities."

In other words, if you called a country the DEA doesn't like from American soil, a record of your conversation may well have been obtained and logged in secret by drug-bust agents.

"The disclosure underscores how the government has extended its use of bulk collection far beyond the NSA and the national security context, into ordinary law enforcement," said Patrick Toomey, staff attorney at the ACLU National Security Project.

"And it shows how a strained and untenable theory of 'relevance' has been used to justify the surveillance of millions of innocent Americans using laws that were never written for that purpose."

The DEA ran the database for over a decade, but stopped using it in September 2013, a few months after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed the mass slurping of American phone records by the NSA.

"The program was suspended in September 2013 and ultimately terminated," a DEA spokesman said in a statement. "It has not been active nor searchable since September 2013, and all of the information has been deleted," a DoJ spokesperson added to political blog The Hill.

"The agency is no longer collecting bulk telephony metadata from US service providers." ®




Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019