Home > Drug War, Rights > The DEA is collecting even more data than the NSA, can we end the War on Drugs now?

The DEA is collecting even more data than the NSA, can we end the War on Drugs now?

September 5, 2013

Anonymous_northern_hemisphere_globeEarlier this week the New York Times had a must read article. It appears that since at least 2007 the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has operated a program it calls the Hemisphere Project. This project goes way beyond the domestic spying activities of the NSA. Here are some key factors that make Hemisphere a bigger civil liberty attack than the NSA’s PRISM program:

  • Hemisphere is a partnership with AT&T. AT&T is not just complying with court orders; it is actually actively working to get all information available to the DEA.
  • DEA pays AT&T to include employees from the telecom company in drug-fighting teams.
  • AT&T provides phone data going back to 1987. Even the PRISM program doesn’t have a reach this far back (that we know of).
  • This purpose of this program is NOT for national security like the NSA’s PRISM program. This is available to law enforcement for whatever it needs.
  • There is no filter to target certain ‘meta-data’. All data is collected and available for browsing by law enforcement.
  • Anyone receiving briefings about the program have been asked to never mention Hemisphere.

All of the above bullet points are reasons to be weary of Hemisphere. However there is one more critical item to add to the list. According to the New York Times article:

Crucially, they said, the phone data is stored by AT&T, and not by the government as in the N.S.A. program. It is queried for phone numbers of interest mainly using what are called “administrative subpoenas,” those issued not by a grand jury or a judge but by a federal agency, in this case the D.E.A.

Brian Fallon, a Justice Department spokesman, said in a statement that “subpoenaing drug dealers’ phone records is a bread-and-butter tactic in the course of criminal investigations.”

Mr. Fallon said that “the records are maintained at all times by the phone company, not the government,” and that Hemisphere “simply streamlines the process of serving the subpoena to the phone company so law enforcement can quickly keep up with drug dealers when they switch phone numbers to try to avoid detection.”

So, unlike the NSA’s PRISM program, there isn’t even a pretense of oversight. At least the NSA has the FISA court to theoretically look out for the Fourth Amendment rights of American citizens. Even though the FISA court rubber-stamps all requests, there is at least a system in place to give the pretense of oversight. With Hemisphere there is no such pretense of oversight. Instead the DEA, and presumably any law enforcement agency, can simply make ‘administrative subpoenas’ to retrieve data for AT&T customers.

The government can try to make the case it does not trample the Fourth Amendment because they are not actually keeping the data. However the data retention and access are paid for by the government. Whether the actual data is held at a government server or an AT&T server the result is the same: taxpayer dollars are being used to collect and use data against American citizens. Embedding AT&T employees into the DEA and DEA agents into AT&T further dissolves any attempt by the government to say this is not a Fourth Amendment issue.

Let’s look back at what the DEA’s  mission is. This from the DEA’s website:

The mission of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is to enforce the controlled substances laws and regulations of the United States…

Perhaps it is time for American citizens to consider if the DEA should exist at all. As a libertarian I have often touted the War on Drugs as the largest active federal agency that consistently attacks civil rights. Learning of Hemisphere’s existence is proof the DEA has no understanding or respect for natural-born rights. The DEA isn’t even pretending to target international call data; they are actively collecting (via AT&T) and browsing all data with administrative subpoenas. Anyone that felt the NSA overstepped their bounds should be outraged at what the DEA has done with their Hemisphere program.

Last week I mentioned a large nullification victory relating the War on Drugs. Perhaps it is time to go beyond nullification and pressure our representatives in DC to actually end the War on Drugs. The battle against the War on Drugs reached an important threshold two years ago when the 50% of Americans favored legalizing marijuana use. It is time for the government to stop treating a large percentage of American citizens like criminals for a ‘war’ that has done little but waste taxpayer dollars and put millions of people (mostly minority) in prison. Programs such as Hemisphere coming to light will only help make the case that the War on Drugs must end. We are nearing a point where the Fourth Amendment will hold little or no power if programs such as this are not stopped.

  1. Stephanie Strong
    September 5, 2013 at 10:45 am

    You must understand to beat this is to be a people and not a citizen. People control the government and government controls citizens. People are sovereign as long as they do not give up jurisdiction. Please see National Liberty Alliance.org. God bless you

    • Ken Santema
      September 5, 2013 at 11:41 am

      True, I agree. However I use the term “citizen” because it tends to get people riled up easier. Sadly I can get a better response to messages such as this by talking about “taxpayers” and ‘citizens” than ‘people’ and ‘individuals’. The progressive movement has skewed the term ‘individual rights’ so much that the average person no longer understands.

  1. September 6, 2013 at 5:58 pm
  2. December 9, 2013 at 10:30 am
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