DEA program secretly collected bulk phone records for decades

DEA program secretly collected bulk phone records for decades
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A now-defunct surveillance program from the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Justice Department collected billions of phone records of Americans calling people in more than 100 other countries, according to USA Today

The program collected phone records from calls made from the United States to 116 other countries at its peak, according to the report, including neighbors like Canada, Mexico and most of South and Central America.


The program was revealed earlier this year in court documents, but not its extent. 

The agencies used administrative subpoenas, which do not require court approval, to force phone companies to hand over the bulk records. Sprint and AT&T were specifically cited in the report. Other telecom companies were also subject to the orders, the report found. 

The metadata handed over from phone companies included numbers dialed, call times and call duration. It did not include the content of calls. 

The program ran from 1992 to 2013. It only ended after leaker Edward Snowden's revelations of other surveillance programs carried out by the National Security Agency.

The report cites similarities to the NSA program, which collects millions of phone records on calls made domestically, within the United States. But it found the DEA searched through its own database far more often and cross-referenced the information in a way the NSA does not. 

The separate NSA program is still ongoing. President Obama has endorsed ending it, but has deferred to Congress, which will likely address the issue as parts of the Patriot Act are set for reauthorization in June. 

In place of the bulk collection, the DEA now sends daily subpoenas to phone companies for international call records from specific numbers, according to sources cited in the report.