Lawsuit Claims DEA Tracked Phone Calls for 20 Years

Lawsuit Claims DEA Tracked Phone Calls for 20 Years

By McCarton Ackerman 04/13/15

The DEA allegedly outpaced the NSA in phone call data collection.

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The Human Rights Watch has filed a lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Agency for reportedly tracking phone calls of American citizens for over 20 years, violating both the First and Fourth Amendments.

USA Today reported that the DEA and Justice Department collected logs of every phone call from the U.S. to 116 countries associated with drug trafficking. The database recorded the phone numbers, dates, times, length and billing information of the calls, but did not record the contents of the calls or include personal information.

However, agents searched more records in one day than the NSA does in a year. There was also a lack of judicial oversight because the DEA used administrative subpoenas, and not federal court orders to collect the data. The program was only brought to public light last January after a federal judge ordered the DEA to reveal more information about it.

The Human Rights Watch said the DEA collected information from calls they made to foreign sources in life-threatening situations. Although Attorney General Eric Holder ended the data collecting program in September 2013, the lawsuit looks to ensure that the practice can never happen again.

"This lawsuit aims to vindicate HRW's rights, and the rights of all Americans, to make calls overseas without being subject to government surveillance," said Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is representing HRW in the case.

But while the DEA isn't denying their call-logging tactics, they've justified the behavior and said they didn't violate any constitutional amendments. Former DEA administrator Thomas Constantine praised the program for halting the activities of several drug cartels operating in the U.S. and on the border through yielding "a treasure-trove of very important information on trafficking."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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