The DEA Tracked Calls Before It Was ‘Cool’

If you watch movies about the American government busting drug dealers, you’re probably familiar with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). But their job is not always as glamorous, guns-blazing, epic and exciting as the movies make it out to be. Sometimes, agents’ jobs simply involves listening in to our conversations (simple, yet creepy). An investigation by USA Today revealed that the DEA has tracked American’s phone conversations since 1992, ten years before the September 11th terrorist attacks (which many assume was the cause for government wiretapping).

USA Today went on to say that the Justice Department and the DEA gathered records from billions of the country’s citizens in a program that essentially laid the foundation for the National Security Agency, a more modern construct that also monitors American’s emails as well as activities on social media, the internet in general, and (supposedly) via webcams. The site added that the data was used to track the actions of drug cartels and distribution networks, as well as to helping support the conclusion that the Oklahoma city bombings in 1995 were conducted by homegrown terrorists.

TheWashington Times reported on the DEA’s call tracking, stating that the program did not monitor the content of the calls, and also cited the Justice Department, which says the database was erased and has not been searched since 2013. The Times went on to say that court documents revealing the snooping program discussed the monitoring of outgoing calls to foreign nations, and though the amount and names of most countries was not given, the document named Iran as one of them.

With the existence of whistleblowers like former NSA operative Edward Snowden becoming increasingly common and well-publicized, it’s no surprise the NSA and other similar organizations are facing more scrutiny than ever before. Though people realized they were being snooped on even before Edward Snowden told his story, they perhaps didn’t realize to what extent. Rumor has it even SnapChat, the popular app where users share ephemeral photos that supposedly vanish after a few seconds, might be exploitable by the NSA and government technology. Considering even the average person can save Snapchat pictures, it’s likely that the NSA can do far more than we can-or want to- imagine with them.

In a recent interview with TV host John Oliver, Edward Snowden discussed the types of pictures obtained by the NSA and methods used to obtain them. The Inquisitr reported that, though Snowden told people their private pictures could be harvested by the government, he did not recommend people stop taking them, adding that people shouldn’t change their behaviors because the government is acting the “wrong” way.

The Washington Times also noted that the DEA’s call monitoring is being attacked by the American Civil Liberties group and lawyer Saied Kashani, who both argue that the information collected has gone beyond what is necessary to protect the American people from terrorists and drug cartels. Kashani opined that “the war on drugs has turned into a war on privacy,” the Times added.

This report could change the face of privacy and politics, as many Americans believed they were only being monitored as a method of extra protection after the Sept. 11 tragedies. Now that it is evident the DEA has tracked calls since long before Sept. 11, 2001, people will likely be asking questions about the real reason they’re being watched by their government. Where does privacy end and security begin? What rights would you be willing to exchange in order to have additional protection and security? Are you happy with the current balance between security and privacy and why or why not?

[Photo Credit: Louis Lanzano, AP]