In a new court filing, it was revealed that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which operates under the US Justice Department, has covertly been tracking American’s phone calls to overseas countries for over a decade in an attempt to identify drug trafficking, as well as other crimes.
Only outgoing phone calls were mentioned in the official document but according to insiders, data the DEA collected also related to calls coming in. Not mentioned was what the content of all the conversations nor were the number of countries involved mentioned or any specific countries with the exception of Iran.
In the new document, an Iranian-American by the name of Shantia Hassanshaki was thought to be conspiring to exports goods to Iran illegally, which violates the American trade embargo with that country. In a response from his attorney, Saied Kashani, it is obvious that the government abused its authority by tracking his client and other people’s phone calls.
Unbeknownst to Americans, the DEA was running this operation from 1990 through 2013. The court filings claimed that since that time, the database has been destroyed and that no one has accessed it since 2013.
For most people, this new information is a stark reminder of both domestic and foreign phone calls that were being tracked by the National Security Agency (NSA), something whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed. Unlike NSA that needs a court order for surveillance, the DEA only needs an administrative subpoena, something a judge does not review.
In a statement from Patrick Toomey, lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, with this latest discovery it is apparent that the US government is reaching beyond national security and terror cases and now focusing on more conventional crimes as part of listening in on phone calls.
A call by Civil Liberties groups, as well as lawmakers has been made to put a stop to the program, stating it is in violation of privacy rights that Americans have. Because of this, US courts are looking at the different legal challenges associated with the program.
Kashani wants the phone evidence thrown out citing the war on drugs has now been converted into a war on privacy. However, the DEA disagrees, saying the collection of calls in the database falls under a specific statue pertaining to federal drug trafficking whereby administrative subpoenas are all that is needed to get records from businesses, as well as other things.
At this time, Kashani’s client has not been formally accused of any illegal activity but the information gathered was used against him, which is opposite of what American laws allow. When questioned about the phone calls, the DEA or Department of Justice refused to comment so whether this program is still going on under a different government authority remains a mystery.