A Fourth Amendment Victory
Federal agencies have shown a shocking eagerness to use administrative subpoenas -- search warrants that do not require a judge's approval. These subpoenas subvert the Fourth Amendment. According to this item from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the tide may be turning, just a bit, against government snoops:
A federal judge in Los Angeles has given our clients, Human Rights Watch, the go-ahead to take discovery from the government in our ongoing lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the DEA’s bulk surveillance program. Friday's decision is rare, and it's a decisive victory—both for HRW and for the general public. EFF is not aware of any other case where discovery has been allowed into a government mass surveillance program. And the order forces the government to answer questions, under oath, about the steps it took to ensure that all illegally collected records have been fully purged from all government systems.
The case stems from the DEA’s disclosure in January of this year that it had secretly collected Americans’ international call records in bulk for over two decades. News reports described the program as massive—sweeping in billions of records of Americans’ calls to more than 100 countries around the globe, including Canada, Mexico, India, and Italy. The DEA relied only on an obscure administrative subpoena statute to obtain the records in bulk. That means, unlike the NSA’s bulk surveillance program, there was no judicial involvement whatsoever. Making matters worse, reports confirm that multiple agencies searched the illegally collected records for all kinds of cases—from terrorism, to drug trafficking, to export violations.
In April, immediately following a lengthy report in USA Today, EFF filed suit on behalf of Human Rights Watch against the DEA, DHS, FBI, and various unnamed agencies. The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the program, and seeks to ensure that the program is permanently stopped rather than merely suspended as claimed by DEA. The suit further asks the court to ensure that all illegally collected records are accounted for and destroyed.
Federal lawyers said they had suspended the program, "quarantined" the records in question and "purged" their data systems. Nothing to see here, move along (and dismiss the lawsuit, please).
The judge disagreed, and is allowing EFF to proceed with its lawsuit and the discovery process, which the organization hopes will "...provide some much needed insight into the government’s surveillance program and whether or not the government continues to retain and use those illegally collected."