Human rights group sues DEA over bulk collection of US phone records

9 Apr 2015

Human Rights Watch, a group represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), has filed a lawsuit against the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) over the alleged illegal bulk collection of phone records.

The DEA’s collection of billions of records of Americans’ international calls without a warrant as part of its “war on drugs” was exposed this week by USA Today.

The mass phone record collection is understood to have served as a template for the NSA’s bulk surveillance of US phone data after 9/11.

“The DEA’s program of untargeted and suspicionless surveillance of Americans’ international telephone call records—information about the numbers people call, and the time, date, and duration of those calls—affects millions of innocent people, yet the DEA operated the program in secret for years,’’ said EFF Staff Attorney Nate Cardozo.

“Both the 1st and 4th Amendment protect Americans from this kind of overreaching surveillance. This lawsuit aims to vindicate HRW’s rights, and the rights of all Americans, to make calls overseas without being subject to government surveillance.”  

It is understood that the DEA disclosed the existence of its surveillance for the first time in January, after a federal judge ordered the government to reveal more information about the program.


The agency made the disclosure in a criminal case against a man accused of violating export restrictions on goods to Iran.

It has been reported that the programme, run by the DEA’s special operations division, began bulk collection in the 1990s to create a database for domestic criminal probes.

The information was shared with other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, for reasons unrelated to drug trafficking, media reports said

The programme was understood to have been “suspended” in 2013 and Human Rights Watch said the purpose of the lawsuit is to ensure the programme is permanently suspended and cannot restart.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years