Reports from USA Today have indicated that the United Stated government has been keeping track of citizens' international phone calls for almost a decade prior to the Sept. 11 attacks. This led to billions of call records being kept in government records and has provided the basis for the National Security Agency surveillance program that we have today. The NSA has been involved in several instances of violating the privacy of innocent citizens for several years now, you can read about more of their operations here: NSA Gathers Data on Social Connections of U.S. Citizens, 20 Organizations join in a Lawsuit against the NSA , NSA Tracking Location via Cellphones .
The tracking of calls that had been going on for more than 20 years by the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration included millions of phone calls from the USA to about 116 countries allegedly linked to drug trafficking. Some of the targeted countries included Canada, Mexico and most of South and Central America.
The Justice Department had hinted that the DEA had collected data from calls to other countries, but the specifics had not been disclosed until now. The federal government used the calls to keep track of drug cartels and their distribution networks within the United States, allowing agents to detect previously unknown trafficking rings.
This operation has been discontinued for several years. It is the government's first known attempt at gathering data on Americans in bulk. The NSA recorded millions of telephone calls made by everyday citizens, even when they were not suspected of a crime. This was the first model for the NSA phone surveillance system launched after Sept. 11. After Edward Snowden revealed the NSA's program to the public, a controversy over the invasion of privacy American citizens' invasion of privacy flourished. The government has been severely criticized for intruding into innocent people's lives without any notification.
The original data collection program began in 1992, during the administration of President George H. W. Bush, nine years later his son President George W. Bush, authorized the NSA to gather its own logs of American phone calls. It was approved by top Justice Department officials in four consecutive presidential administrations.
The DEA initiative collected its data without court approval, which the NSA is now prohibited from doing. The DEA would search the data more frequently in a day than the NSA does in a year, and automatically linked the numbers the agency gathered into large electronic collections of investigative reports.
There is no question as to the illegality of this NSA program as both a violation of American citizen's right to privacy and freedom of association as provided under the United States Constitution.