Civil liberties coalition wants Congress to probe DEA spy program

Concerns over the United States government’s vast surveillance apparatus aren’t subsiding, even three months after former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden first started leaking national security documents.

On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law and more than 20
other groups signed letters to Congress asking for an
investigation into a recently revealed spy program that lets
federal officials with the Drug Enforcement Administration access
non-terrorism intelligence collected by other agencies.

Earlier this month, Reuters unveiled news of a long-standing
federal program, the Hemisphere Project, that puts intelligence collected
by the National Security Agency into the hands of DEA agents. In
turn, Hemisphere allows narcotics officers to benefit from
information that was accumulated with the intent of thwarting
terrorist plots, not drug deals, since 2007.

Documents obtained by the New York Times suggest that 4 billion
call detail records are populated within the Hemisphere database
each day, all in great secrecy until this month.

“[T]he scale and longevity of the data storage appears to be
unmatched by other government programs, including the NSA’s
gathering of phone call logs under the Patriot Act
,” the
Times claimed.

Now the ACLU, NORML and roughly two-dozen other groups are asking
US lawmakers to look into the program.

According to Reuters, the groups sent a letter to congressional
leaders on the judiciary, homeland security and oversight
committees this week, condemning the latest revelations
serious and far-reaching.”

For too long Congress has given the DEA a free pass,”
Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance told Reuters. “Our hope
is that Congress does its job and provides oversight of an agency
that has a long track record of deeply troubling behavior
.”

The revelation earlier this month regarding a NSA/DEA alliance
came amidst a series of other scoops in recent weeks exposing how the US
intelligence community has conducted itself in the years since
the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Leaked NSA documents
attributed to Snowden have shown that information about the phone
calls and Internet habits of millions of Americans has been
collected by the government, and a steady stream of disclosures
have continuously been covered in the media since the UK’s
Guardian and the Washington Post began profiling the leaker’s
cache of classified documents on June 5.

Only days after the first Snowden leak revealed that the NSA was
collected telephony metadata pertaining to millions of Verizon
Business Services customers on a daily basis, the ACLU filed a suit alleging they were denied their
reasonable expectation of privacy, free speech and
association, right to be free of unreasonable searches and
seizures and due process rights
.”

In July, NORML signed on to a separate lawsuit filed by an array of plaintiffs
located in the state of California, including the First Unitarian
Church of Los Angeles, the Council on Islamic Relations and the
Electronic Frontier Foundation. In that claim, the plaintiffs
said they were challenging “an illegal and unconstitutional
program of dragnet electronic surveillance
” waged by the US
government, specifically “the bulk acquisition, collection,
storage, retention and searching of telephone communications
information
” that was already being argued by the ACLU.

Now with the latest letters to be sent to Capitol Hill, the ACLU
and NORML are working side-by-side to ideally bring a stop to
just another intelligence program they say is illegal.

Why has the DEA kept this surreptitious surveillance program
in the shadows
?” Ezekiel Edwards of the ACLU Criminal Law
Reform Project asked this week in a blog post on the
organization’s website. “Because, as with so many of
government surveillance programs, Hemisphere raises serious
constitutional questions
.”

Simply put, under the tired guise of protecting Americans
from drugs, the US government has secretly targeted and invaded
the life and privacy of millions of its own citizens
,”
Edwards wrote. “The US should be ending the War on Drugs, not
expanding it by secretly outsourcing widespread
surveillance
.”

According to Reuters, representatives with the DEA have defended
the Hemisphere Project and say it is not in violation of any law.
A classified hearing is expected in the House of Representatives
later this month.

Republished from: RT