Sunday, January 18, 2015

U.S. kept secret law enforcement database of Americans’ calls overseas until 2013

The U.S. government amassed a secret law enforcement database of Americans’ outbound overseas telephone calls through administrative subpoenas issued to multiple phone companies for more than a decade, according to officials and a government affidavit made public Thursday.

The existence of the database was made known at the order of U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras of Washington, presiding over the case of a U.S.-Iranian dual national who is accused of unlawfully exporting non-military technology to Iran.

Civil liberties groups and attorneys for the defendant, Shantia Hassanshahi, called the database a sweeping overreach of a 1988 provision of the Controlled Substances Act, aimed at drug enforcement.

According to Robert Patterson, assistant special agent in charge at the Drug Enforcement Administration, until 2013 American law enforcement officials periodically asked an unspecified number of U.S. telecommunications service providers for phone record metadata — specifically originating and receiving telephone numbers and the date, time and length of calls — for outbound U.S. calls dialed to countries “determined to have a demonstrated nexus to international drug trafficking and related criminal activities.”

Patterson, in the lightly redacted affidavit, does not state the number of countries involved but includes Iran. The affidavit states the database was suspended in September 2013 but does not say why. One individual familiar with the program said the newly disclosed program had been running since the 1990s.
Justice Department spokesman Patrick Rodenbush said the program, which he did not name, was “ultimately terminated. It has not been active nor searchable since September 2013, and all of the information has been deleted.”


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