The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been ordered by a federal judge to provide information on its secretive mass surveillance program to a human rights group.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), with legal help from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), sued the DEA and other federal agencies to stop the collecting of data on international phone calls made by Americans to overseas parties—a form of unauthorized surveillance that the DEA quietly performed for two decades, according to EFF.
The DEA conducted the mass surveillance without court approval, gathering billions of phone records on calls made to more than 100 countries, EFF’s Mark Rumold wrote. The DEA also shared its data with other federal agencies.
In response to the HRW lawsuit, a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled last week that the government must release information on the secretive program to the plaintiffs. “Friday’s decision is rare, and it’s a decisive victory—both for HRW and for the general public,” Rumold wrote. “EFF is not aware of any other case where discovery has been allowed into a government mass surveillance program. And the order forces the government to answer questions, under oath, about the steps it took to ensure that all illegally collected records have been fully purged from all government systems.”
The DEA claims it suspended the program two years ago, and on that basis asked for the case to be dismissed. Instead, EFF wants the court to rule the surveillance unconstitutional to ensure it is halted permanently and that any records collected from it are destroyed.