Privacy

The DEA Fights Drugs by Collecting Your Phone Records

The government acknowledges another warrantless metadata program.

|

DEA

The phone record database that the Drug Enforcement Administration officially acknowledged for the first time on Friday is in some ways less alarming than the National Security Agency's better-known collection. Both were assembled without individualized warrants, sweeping up the records of many innocents in the hope of catching a few bad guys. But while the NSA strives to collect information about every phone call in the United States and keeps it for years, the DEA's collection was limited to calls between the U.S. and countries "determined to have a demonstrated nexus to international drug trafficking and related criminal activities." Another mitigating factor: According to a Justice Department spokesman paraphrased by the Associated Press, "the program was discontinued in September 2013," and "all information held in the database has been deleted."

Then again, the DEA program demonstrates how easily surveillance justified by the extraordinary, life-threatening threat of terrorism, once accepted, can be extended to ordinary criminal investigations, including those aimed at disrupting peaceful transactions that violate no one's rights. As Hanni Fakhoury, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told A.P., "When one agency starts doing something, other agencies are going to look for ways to also do it." The ACLU's Patrick Toomey said the DEA program "shows yet again how the government has used strained legal theories to justify the surveillance of millions of innocent Americans under laws that were never written for that purpose," 

According to a court filing flagged by A.P., the DEA's phone record database, which included information on the timing, length, and destination of calls, "relied on administrative subpoenas," a kind of self-authorization that is about as reassuring as it sounds. To search the database for information about a particular number, an agent needed a "reasonable articulable suspicion that the telephone number was related to an ongoing federal criminal investigation." That standard is weaker than the "probable cause" standard for a warrant, and it seems to have been applied by the DEA itself without judicial oversight.

According to the Obama administration, no such oversight is required, because people do not have any reasonable expectation of privacy regarding information they voluntarily divulge to others. To be fair, that is also what the Supreme Court has said, although the doctrine cries out for reconsideration in an age when people routinely store huge amounts of sensitive material outside their homes.

A couple of years ago, J.D. Tuccille noted another DEA phone record program, which covered more information, including metadata for domestic calls and the locations of cellphone users. Unlike the one acknowledged last week, that database is maintained by AT&T for the DEA's convenience, and it can be queried via adminstrative subpoenas.

NEXT: The individualistic American law of religious exemptions

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. …including those aimed at disrupting peaceful transactions that violate no one’s rights.

    Peaceful transactions? Men, women and children running violently from the door of their house as it’s being kicked in? Homeowners making furtive moves in various directions in reaction to something as simple and everyday as a helpful, government flash-bang grenade tossed through their windows is peaceful? Buying recreational narcotics is anything but peaceful. Obviously they need to be disrupted by, um, warrantless searches.

  2. OT: They came for the Deep Dish Pizza and I said nothing…

    http://thinkprogress.org/healt…..ing-pizza/

    The authors of the study recommend that physicians and pediatricians discuss pizza consumption with parents during nutritional discussions. They believe that focusing on specific foods rather than overall nutrients my be more effective dietary counseling.

    “These observations emphasize that pizza, like sugary drinks, may be a significant contributor to excess caloric intake and obesity, and should become a target for counseling for the prevention and treatment of obesity in pediatric practice,” they wrote in the study.

    1. Jesus Christ. Next thing you know they’ll be telling me that six martinis a day is “excessive.”

      1. They can pry my three bottles of wine a night habit from my cold dead hands.

    2. They’d hate my white pizza,lots of cheese

    3. Chicago is calling…been to long since I’ve been up to Gino’s. But then I don’t fit the narrative, despite copious pizza consumption, I’m far from overweight, unfit, or unhealthy…

      1. despite copious pizza consumption, I’m far from overweight, unfit, or unhealthy…

        That’s because if you’re eating it in Chicago, you’re not eating pizza, you’re eating quiche.

        1. So it’s actually the word “pizza” making kids fat and not the actual caloric content?

        2. I make pizza omelettes. Usually with pepperoni.

        3. OK. Then I guess quiche is better than pizza.

    4. Susan, you spend too much time reading Think Progress.

      As a recovering Salon addict, I understand the impulse, but for the sake of your own mental health and well-being I urge you to seek counseling.

      1. Maybe. I do like seeing how some stories change depending on who’s doing the writing. Perhaps fighting to urge to one-up the Derpetologist may be a good idea.

    5. People who eat deep dish are already fatasses, it goes with the territory.

      1. Fuck you with Lou Malnati’s sausage, Epi!

        Nice Seahawks win, by the way. What a crazy game.

        1. I had written them off already and was practically not watching when suddenly, 15 points in 44 seconds, and they were in the lead. Fucking nuts. Honestly the offence played like total shit most of the game, and I can’t really tell if I think they deserved to win, though that comeback was amazing.

          But a Hawks/Patriots Superbowl? OH MY GOD. I need Brady sadface! I need it!

          1. The ‘Hawks certainly didn’t deserve to win, but I’ll take it anyway.

            I hope the league did drug tests on the entire team right after the game – you’re facing a gimpy qb so you decide not to blitz on any downs whatsoever, you’ve got the league’s leading rushing qb so you decide to not only not let him run, but since it’s raining you decide it’s a good idea to throw the ball a lot. I don’t know what kind of drugs I would have to take to scramble my brains like that, but it would have to be a massive amount of them.

            1. Stupid Face decided not to throw at a clearly injured Richard Sherman, and got monstrously conservative with 5 minutes to go (the Burnett INT on). But sure, the first 55 minutes was only the Seahawks preventing themselves from winning.

    6. Or they could emphasize “go outside and play”.

      I’m still convinced that the obesity whatever is almost all down to less active lifestyles.

  3. Why do we continue to pretend that the excuses made for certain things are in fact the ‘raison d’?tre’?

    I don’t believe the Government cares about “Drug Crimes” nearly as much as they do finding any potential excuse to enlarge their power as much as possible.

    Drugs are just the excuse.

    Just as ‘the environment’ is the excuse used by leftists to try and impose economic controls…. just as they use ‘the children’ as an excuse to impose top-down controls of our educational system. etc etc.

    Stop pretending the exuses are sincere. Just look at the actions. They give lie to the excuse every time. Most of the time the connection between the excuse and the action is so tenuous as to be laughable.

    People always keep pointing out that the actions they want to take don’t really even *achieve the goals they claim they want*:

    (e.g. does anyone really believe Keystone XL has any effect either way on ‘the environment?? – its about POWER)

    in this case = “do we really need to ‘boil the ocean’ and surveill the entire population to catch a few ‘drug dealers’?” – even bothering with that question is merely a distraction. It presumes honest intent on the part of the snoopers.

    The action IS the end-goal. Its not a means to an end. It IS the end. Snooping because they CAN. And they will continue to throw bullshit reasons at you (terrorism and drugs will be followed by ‘tax cheats’ or something else) to keep you arguing about the *excuses*

    1. Well, of course. Why do you think they do this? Because the useful idiots don’t look at actions. They respond to the right keywords and buzzwords. Amazingly, a politician or bureaucrat can say the proper code words and then never be called on whether they did what they said. Ever.

      So yes, it’s all about expanding their power, but they can only get away with this because there are so many fucking people who–and I cannot understand this at all, but it’s a major phenomenon–just do not bother to check or do not care if a politician does what they say.

    2. The reason for being (why do we use a French phrase that translates exactly literally to what it means when we use it in English?) is that some people made some laws and other people got the job of enforcing. I don’t think it even makes sense to say there is a single goal of something like the WOD. Lots of people have an interest for lots of different reasons, so it just keeps going like some blind idiot god or something.

      1. “(why do we use a French phrase that translates exactly literally to what it means when we use it in English?)”

        Well, on one level its simply the “sounds snootier” part

        Why is your driver a ‘chauffeur’? Why is your wardrobe an ‘armoire’? Semantic delusions of grandeur

        But in the case of this one, i’d say that its a common idiom that communicates ‘existential purpose’ far more potently than ‘reason for being‘.

        No one questions the ‘raison d’etre’ of a road Detour sign. But they do ask, ‘why the hell it that there?’

        (i.e. the french version suggests its a more philosophical question; the English suggests a more practical, mundane question)

        It probably signals ‘Warning = fancy-talk about to follow’ in a better way; which is why a lot of french expressions are used in place of similar english phrases.

        Nothing immediately springs to mind except “de rigeur” – something i use semi frequently – as a shorthand for saying, “commonplace; fashionable; accepted practice”

      2. “I don’t think it even makes sense to say there is a single goal of something like the WOD. Lots of people have an interest for lots of different reasons…”

        I think we’re saying the same thing in different ways.

        I’d agree = no one consciously directs the DEA to endlessly expand its mandate *regardless* of the actual efficacy against ‘drugs’.

        But that it is inherent in institutional power – when they *can*, they *will*.

        (*aka, the ‘why does a dog lick its own balls’-argument)

        Government can be seen as a single organism that only seeks to enlarge and perpetuate itself, and that the areas it does so the most are where you find these bullshit ‘excuses’

        My argument is that we need to get past the assumption that the excuses have any legitimate basis at all.

        In the case of say, a ‘Carbon Tax’ for example – i think there are/were some idiots on lower levels who actually believed that this sort of policy had some kind of actual tangible positive connection to “the Environment” in some way.

        I think everyone involved in the thing itself? (bureaucrats) understood it to be simply a means by which to ‘create government jobs, give those people power over businesses, and a funnel to move money from Peter to Paul’. Full stop.

        Most people only learn after the fact that its a scam. We should know BEFORE the fact.

        1. Government can be seen as a single organism that only seeks to enlarge and perpetuate itself, and that the areas it does so the most are where you find these bullshit ‘excuses’

          I think that is a very good way to put it. Whether or not anyone designed it that way, that’s what it is.

    3. the more snooping the larger the buracracy. Can you imagine being the manager of such a large function as a computer memory farm full of everyones informations, information that 99.999999% is useless and if you loose the one pin in that haystack no one is going to do anything about it anyway. I want that job.

  4. The DEA Fights Drugs by Collecting Your Phone Records

    Of course they would do that. Why not, right?

    The ACLU’s Patrick Toomey said the DEA program “shows yet again how the government has used strained legal theories to justify the surveillance of millions of innocent Americans under laws that were never written for that purpose,”

    And what is the ACLU doing about it? Talk is cheap.

    1. Damn! Lefties will find any reason to dump on Eastwood, won’t they?

      1. Well, we tried to find a baby with a cleft palate and a Gorbachev-style birthmark, but we couldn’t.

        1. This article was a parody, but it is pathetic that jezebel and salon can produce similar articles, which is why everyone was so quick to believe this one.

  5. To search the database for information about a particular number, an agent needed a “reasonable articulable suspicion that the telephone number was related to an ongoing federal criminal investigation.”

    “I gotta HUNCH, Boss.”

    1. What is it Dinozzo ?

  6. The DEA Fights Drugs by Collecting Your Phone Records

    1. SIGH

      The DEA Fights Drugs by Collecting Your Phone Records

      My longest phone call was like 4 hours. Is that a record?

      1. Four hours? What are you, a teenage girl?

        1. Too late, Chris Hansen is at your door already.

          1. But the alcohol, zip ties, condoms, and plastic sheets are for a remodeling project! I swear!!

  7. “all information held in the database has been deleted.”

    Uh-huh. And the copies of all that information?

    1. First thing I thought of when the NSA claimed it didn’t routinely and comprehensively access all the data it collected – of course you don’t, you just routinely and comprehensively access copies of all the data.

      And that means that in their lying little shitweasel brains, the claim is not a lie.

  8. I don’t believe the Government cares about “Drug Crimes” nearly as much as they do finding any potential excuse to enlarge their power as much as possible.

    The Patriot Act was an Attorney Generals’ wish list dating back at least to the Nixon administration. It just took the right fulcrum to lever it into place.

  9. the DEA’s collection was limited to calls between the U.S. and countries “determined to have a demonstrated nexus to international drug trafficking and related criminal activities.”

    Contest! Name *one* country that could not be “determined to have a demonstrated nexus to international drug trafficking and related criminal activities.”

    1. I’ll kick it off with … KIRIBATI!

      1. Never mind. On second thought, Kiribati is obviously on a major trafficking pipeline between Thailand and Peru.

        *** scratches head ***

        Iceland?

        1. Shit man, you’ve clearly never hung out with Icelanders.

    2. Syngman?

      1. San Marino seems pretty unlikely too. Not much point when you are a tiny enclave inside another country.

        1. Ah-HA! *Perfect* for money laundering!

      2. BZZT! Pedophilia is a “related criminal activity”!

  10. Dear leader said last week that social media and the internet are the main avenues by which terrorists communicate. To respond in the modern infantile idiom…duh. Everyone uses the internet.

    Imagine” “The telephone is the main way gangsters communicate”

    “The car is the main way bank robbers travel”

    1. “People having money is how crime happens. We got that covered already.”

    2. “And don’t even get me started on ‘breathing air’!”

  11. Hate to disillusion you guys, but the most libertarian people I know (in action, if not philosophy) have never even seen a libertarian web site. They do what they want when they want, under the radar, either black market or gray market.

    I’m humbled by their actions. If I spent half as much time avoiding the State as I do commenting and/or reading about it online, I’d be a much freer person. And happier, to boot!

      1. Thanks for posting this. I’ve got an autographed book from Browne when I saw him when he was running for president. But I haven’t read this one. As a book person, I’m impressed by the prices if nothing else!

  12. Should we trust someone who can’t answer a simple yes/no question?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFgrB2Wmh5s

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFC2IZe04EY

    1. That seems like more of a “won’t” than a “can’t”.

      And no, we should definitely not trust Michele Leonhart.

  13. How is it that Michelle Leonhart still hasn’t been beaten to death with a shovel?

  14. According to a Justice Department spokesman paraphrased by the Associated Press, “the program was discontinued in September 2013,”

    In an amazing coincidence, that’s a few month after Snowden let them know that the NSA was already doing all that the DEA was doing and more!

  15. September 2013 was after the Snowden revelations, wasn’t it?

  16. Isn’t it a stretch to say that we “voluntarily” give up our calling information? Afterall, it is a LAW that billing records be retained for 18 months http://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/47/42.6

    1. Nobody is forcing you to have a cell phone. You could communicate by carrier pigeon.

  17. Roll with the punches one more time dude. WOw.

    http://www.BestAnon.tk

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.