Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] filed suit [complaint] Tuesday accusing the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) [official website] of collecting records of the organization’s telephone calls to foreign countries. The DEA attempted [press release] to make the existence of a mass surveillance program confidential until January, when a federal judge ordered the government to disclose additional information about the program. The purpose of the surveillance program is to collect telephone metadata, including data about the numbers people call and the time, date and duration of those calls. HRW, represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) [advocacy website], has filed a series of legal claims alleging unconstitutional government surveillance. In a declaration filed in the criminal case in January, a DEA agent stated that the program was designed to collect telephone records of calls made from the US to “designated foreign countries” connected with international drug trafficking. There is evidence that the DEA obtained the records without judicial oversight or approval. HRW is seeking to ensure that the program is permanently terminated and that all of HRW’s illegally collected records are purged from all government systems.
Government surveillance policies have been hotly debated recently. Much of the focus comes as a result of revelations [JURIST backgrounder] by former US National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] contractor Edward Snowden [JURIST news archive], who allegedly leaked classified documents, including PRISM and UPSTREAM, in 2013, exposing the scope and breadth of NSA surveillance activities. One of the first challenges to NSA activities came in June 2013, when the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit [JURIST report] in federal court just days after Snowden claimed responsibility for the leaks. As the outcry over the revelations began to expand in scope and severity, several other human rights groups decided to sue as well. The following month both the EFF and the Electronic Privacy Information Center [advocacy websites] filed suit alleging [JURIST report] similar claims on the behalf of a coalition of 19 separate organizations. In March France’s government pushed a surveillance bill [JURIST report] that would give French intelligence services the authority to monitor metadata. In February a US district court dismissed [JURIST report] a challenge to NSA warrantless surveillance. Also in February the UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) ruled [JURIST report] that the UK’s mass surveillance of citizens’ Internet use violates human rights law. In July civil liberties groups sued [JURIST report] the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service [official website] known as MI6, alleging that the agency accesses data from undersea cables in violation of the rights to private life and freedom of expression.