Revelations about the NSA’s spying practices were groundbreaking news when they were first leaked to the public by Edward Snowden and the journalists he contacted to expose the news. The country quickly entered a debate about citizens’ right to privacy, about a government’s right to infringe upon that privacy in the name of national security. While people were certainly upset about the federal government’s sweeping surveillance tactics, nobody was necessarily surprised. Especially in the years following 9/11, sacrificing privacy for security had become as commonplace as the government shielding many of its counterterrorism efforts in complete secrecy.
Today, it was revealed that the DEA and the Justice Department had maintained a database of American telephone records since the 1990s. The program, which was allegedly suspended in September of 2013, tracked the records of all international calls involving American phone numbers. Similar to the NSA spying program, the Justice Department database tracked calls even if there was no suspicion or evidence of criminal activity being discussed. It was accessible, as the USA Today reports, through “administrative subpoenas rather than court orders,” a typical method of circumventing the legal process. The department has downplayed the significance of the program, explaining that it’s no longer in existence. (It was curiously suspended at a time when public backlash towards the NSA was at an all time high.)
“It has not been active nor searchable since September 2013, and all of the information has been deleted,” Justice Department spokesman Patrick Rodenbush told the New York Times. “The agency is no longer collecting bulk telephony metadata from U.S. service providers.”
The saddest part of the entire story is that, again like the NSA revelations, it is hardly a surprise. American citizens have come to expect that their government is conducting mass surveillance on any and all of its communications devices. We had strong suspicions that our government was using illegal methods of torture at CIA black sites around the world, even if it took the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report to confirm what we all really knew already. Finding out our government’s darkest secrets has become the new norm, and with every revelation the hope for any sort of true change becomes increasingly less likely.