Surprise! Surveillance Tactic Justified by War on Terror Mostly Used to Bust People for Drugs

Mar 31 2016

Surprise! Surveillance Tactic Justified by War on Terror Mostly Used to Bust People for Drugs

The parallels between the War on Terror and the War on Drugs have been well-documented. There’s the logical absurdity of waging war against terror or drugs, for one thing, but also an array of concrete ways that each has amplified the worst parts of the other: from police militarization to aggressive surveillance to the devastation of communities of color.

In recent months, the FBI has tried to coerce Apple into helping access the contents of the San Bernardino shooter’s phone. Apple refused. The government ended up breaking into the phone without Apple’s help, but before that they were using a legal tactic called the All Writs Act. According to the ACLU, the law authorizes the courts to hand down orders that help carry out other lawful orders.

The ACLU collected other cases where the All Writs Act was used to break into locked phones and other devices—and no surprise here—it’s mostly been to bust people for drugs. Of the two-thirds of cases where the alleged crime could be determined, the ACLU found that 41 percent were drug-related, as Wired reports.

“The narrative was that they would only do this in cases where the crimes were particularly severe and a serious threat to national security, and that seems to be disproved,” the ACLU’s Ezekiel Edwards told Wired. “I’m certainly displeased to find that so many of these cases in which the government has forced companies to unlock phones have been drug cases. But I’m not surprised.”