The Justice Department kept a secret database of incoming and outgoing U.S. international calls for more than a decade, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The discovery occurred when a court filing obtained by the newspaper revealed the existence of the program as evidence in an Iranian exporting case.
The document specified that the database "could be used to query a telephone number where federal law-enforcement officials had a reasonable articulable suspicion that the telephone number at issue was related to an ongoing federal criminal investigation."
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reportedly used administrative subpoenas instead of federal court orders to collect the data. Unlike a court order, an administrative subpoena is not reviewed by a judge.
One official with the Justice Department, who spoke with The Journal, said the DEA is no longer collecting bulk telephone records from phone companies in the United States and that the database has been deleted. The program was established in the 1990s, but was shut down in August 2013.
Saied Kashani, the lawyer of the defendant in the lawsuit, told the newspaper that he believes the government "has converted the war on drugs into a war on privacy.''