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Report: DEA Collected Americans’ Phone Records Years Before NSA’s Collection Began
A report released on Tuesday revealed that several years before the National Security Agency began recording Americans’ phone calls, the Drug Enforcement Administration had its own program that began recording calls in 1992.
The report, which was first released by USA Today, found that the DEA’s operation began in 1992, acted as a blueprint for the NSA’s massive data collection program, and was the government’s “first known effort to gather data on Americans in bulk, sweeping up records of telephone calls made by millions of U.S. citizens regardless of whether they were suspected of a crime.”
As previously reported, the existence of the DEA’s program was first revealed in January. However, the full scope of the program was not exposed at the time. USA Today noted that while its report gives insight into the program, there are parts of it that still remain classified.
Officials involved with the operation told USA Today that for more than two decades, the Justice Department and the DEA “amassed logs of virtually all telephone calls from the USA to as many as 116 countries linked to drug trafficking,” with target countries including Canada, Mexico and most of Central and South America.
In a letter from the Justice Department to Sprint in 1998, obtained by USA Today, the department asked the phone company to turn over its call records, and called the DEA’s data collection “one of the most important and effective Federal drug law enforcement initiatives,” which had been “approved at the highest levels of Federal law enforcement authority,” according to Mary Lee Warren, the head of the department’s Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Section.
According to the report, DEA agents did not intercept the content of the phone calls, but they did obtain which numbers were called and when, and they then linked those numbers to an electronic collection of investigative reports, domestic call records and foreign intelligence data.
USA Today reported that although the NSA’s program is still in place, Attorney General Eric Holder halted the DEA’s program in Sept. 2013, after Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA was collecting call records and data from innocent Americans. The report claims that the DEA now sends subpoenas to phone companies, in order to obtain international calling records, and that they sometimes request “a thousand or more numbers a day.”
The case against the NSA metadata collection began yesterday
The case against the NSA and their bulk collection of phone and metadata began yesterday in New York City.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit in June, 2013, days after Edward Snowden leaked documents stating the NSA was collecting bulk phone metadata, and which the ACLU says violates the privacy rights and federal laws.
The case is being heard by a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and the initial proceedings saw the judge’s panel ask both the ACLU and Justice Department lawyers various questions concerning the metadata collection. According to RT, no decision has yet been made on the matter after over two hours of questioning.
Assistant attorney general Stuart Delery was the defense representative in the case. He had the difficult position of defending a program that President Obama no longer publicly supports, according to the Guardian.
Judge Gerard Lynch asked Delery what the importance of collecting all domestic phone records was, as well as why they thought they could collect such data without suspecting the caller of “terrorism, espionage, or other wrongdoing.”
Delery argued, according to FOX News, the federal courts do not have proper jurisdiction to question or review complaints against the NSA program, while he also said the program was constitutional.
While Delery also said, “The purpose of this work is to detect and disrupt future plots,” Judge Lynch countered by saying he found it hard to imagine this meant the NSA could collect the metadata without discretion.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Justice Department has said callers have no privacy interest in their phone metadata. They also wrote in April saying, “The telephony-metadata program serves the paramount government interest in preventing and disrupting terrorist attacks on the United States, and does so with minimal impact on legitimate privacy concerns.”