While a lot of attention has been focused on the National Security Agency (NSA) and its massive wiretap operation, an equally troubling government search of phone records has recently come to light – the Drug Enforcement Agency’s collection of phone record data.
According to the ACLU, quoting the New York Times:
According to the Times, the government pays AT&T to embed its employees within anti-narcotics units, and these employees then conduct phone records searches at the government’s behest. This enables the government to obtain records from a vast AT&T database of Americans’ phone calls. The database stretches back 26 years, and 4 billion records are added every day.
These searches are used, in part, to identify burner phones. Burner phones, if you watched The Wire, are sometimes used by folks who don’t want people to listen in or track their phone calls.
The problem with burner phones, from the individual’s perspective, is that that person still needs to talk to the same set of people as part of the criminal conspiracy. That means that while the numbers may change, the pattern of the conspiracy does not.
By culling enormous databases of information, the government presumably re-identify each of the phone numbers on the new burner network, thereby reducing the effectiveness of using burners.
The catch is that we have this thing called a Constitution, with a Fourth Amendment. In the process of surveilling the network, the government is also collecting data about innocent peoples’ calling patterns.