Los Angeles — Human Rights Watch, a nonpartisan organization that fights human rights abuses across the globe, filed suit against the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration late Tuesday for illegally collecting records of its telephone calls to certain foreign countries as part of yet another government bulk surveillance program. The group is represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which has launched a series of legal challenges against unconstitutional government surveillance.
“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 First and Fourth 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.”
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. In a declaration filed in the case, a DEA agent described the then-secret program of collecting telephone records of calls made from the U.S. to “designated foreign countries’’ that are connected with international drug trafficking. The declaration revealed that DEA relied on administrative subpoenas to amass the database of Americans’ call records. The DEA obtained the records without judicial oversight or approval.