Privacy SOS

Report: AT&T is data mining phone records for the police, for profit

Journalist Kenneth Lipp with the major scoop: The AT&T pay-to-play surveillance service scheme called Project Hemisphere is much bigger than original reports suggested. 

Lipp writes in the Daily Beast:

Hemisphere is a secretive program run by AT&T that searches trillions of call records and analyzes cellular data to determine where a target is located, with whom he speaks, and potentially why.

In 2013, Hemisphere was revealed by The New York Times and described only within a Powerpoint presentation made by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The Times described it as a “partnership” between AT&T and the U.S. government; the Justice Department said it was an essential, and prudently deployed, counter-narcotics tool.

However, AT&T’s own documentation—reported here by The Daily Beast for the first time—shows Hemisphere was used far beyond the war on drugs to include everything from investigations of homicide to Medicaid fraud.

Hemisphere isn’t a “partnership” but rather a product AT&T developed, marketed, and sold at a cost of millions of dollars per year to taxpayers. No warrant is required to make use of the company’s massive trove of data, according to AT&T documents, only a promise from law enforcement to not disclose Hemisphere if an investigation using it becomes public.

According to Lipp’s report, the Hemisphere system is in use at no less than 28 so-called “High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area” (HIDTA) intelligence centers across the United States. Here in Massachusetts, there’s a HIDTA office in Methuen. 

The drug war is a major driver of government surveillance in the United States and worldwide. Project Hemisphere is just another chapter in that miserable tale. At the ACLU of Massachusetts, we’re making some efforts to find out whether or not Project Hemisphere or similar programs are in use at our state and local law enforcement agencies. Stay tuned.

© 2024 ACLU of Massachusetts.