Phone and Email Data-Mining Used in War on Drugs, Too
By Ryan Singel EmailDecember 17, 2007 | 11:16:41 AMCategories: NSA
Do not let it be said that the Bush administration forgot the War on Drugs while waging the War on Terror.
The Drug Enforcement Agency, for one, continued and expanded the data mining records of phone calls and emails from the United States to Latin American countries in order to catch smugglers, according to the New York Times. The program began under President Clinton in he 1990s and expanded under President Bush.
Officials say the government has not listened to the communications, but has instead used phone numbers and e-mail addresses to analyze links between people in the United States and overseas. Senior Justice Department officials in the Bush and Clinton administrations signed off on the operation, which uses broad administrative subpoenas but does not require court approval to demand the records.
At least one major phone carrier — whose identity could not be confirmed — refused to cooperate, citing concerns in 2004 that the subpoenas were overly broad, government and industry officials said. The executives also worried that if the program were exposed, the company would face a public-relations backlash.
As Timesmen Eric Lichtblau, James Risen and Scott Shane pointed out in their Sunday story, the drug data mining is just one more example of how cozy the nation's giant telecommunications companies and the government's cops and spies remain.
But the sunshine of reporting and the lawsuits against the industry is starting to make the telecoms wary of letting the government rifle through Americans' communications records.
As a result, skittish companies and their lawyers have been demanding stricter safeguards before they provide access to the government and, in some cases, are refusing outright to cooperate, officials said.
"It's a very frayed and strained relationship right now, and that's not a good thing for the country in terms of keeping all of us safe," said an industry official who believes that immunity is critical for the phone carriers. "This episode has caused companies to change their conduct in a variety of ways."
Hmm. That's a very interesting quote from an anonymous telecom official (Why give this person anonymity?)
Maybe having the phone companies relearn to say to the government "Come back with a warrant," isn't such a bad thing.
That might be a good thing for keeping the Constitution safe.