In December, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Human Rights Watch celebrated a victory after their lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Administration led to the conclusion of a program monitoring Americans’ phone calls overseas. The DEA also told the court that a database storing millions of Americans’ collected phone records has been destroyed.
The EFF and Human Rights Watch filed suit in April after USA Today reported that the DEA had been secretly and illegally collecting billions of records from phone calls placed to hundreds of foreign nations. After an 8 month battle, HRW agreed to voluntarily dismiss the lawsuit after the U.S. government assured the organization that the mass collection of data had ceased and the only database with billions of phone records had been purged. The DEA made the promise under penalty of perjury.
A federal judge previously forced the government to respond to questions from HRW regarding the data collection program. The government attempted to convince the judge that there was no reason to rule on the legality of the program since it had already ended and the data had been deleted.
New details about the program were released through the government’s discovery responses. The government’s responses show that the DEA’s database was allegedly only searched when the government had “reasonable articulable suspicion” that the number was associated with an ongoing criminal investigation.
The DEA also says that call records older than two years were regularly deleted and the program reportedly went “off-line” in August 2013. As of January 2015, the DEA claims that the bulk database had been deleted, including any temporary files.
Despite the destruction of this single database, the U.S. government continues to monitor the activity of innocent Americans through a host of other programs and agencies.
As the EFF notes, “the government still retains some illegally collected records, and they’ve admitted as much.” This data collection includes gathering of phone records by the NSA under Section 702 of the FAA and under EO 12,333. Still, the EFF sees the outcome of the lawsuit as a win for privacy.
“Nevertheless, the end of the NSA’s domestic bulk collection and now the confirmed end of the DEA’s program represents a significant step forward in curtailing some of these abuses.”
What are your thoughts? Do you believe the DEA has stopped monitoring calls to foreign nations? Leave your thoughts below.