The Hemisphere Project, also called simply Hemisphere, is a mass surveillance program conducted by US telephone company AT&T and paid for by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
AT&T employees work alongside the DEA and local law enforcement agencies at High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area offices in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Houston, where they supply officials with metadata from a database of telephone calls dating back to 1987. The information is handed over in response to subpoenas, rather than search warrants. The DEA has the power to issue "administrative subpoenas" without involvement of a court. Call detail records are collected for all calls handled by AT&T's switches, not only calls placed by AT&T customers. The records include the caller's location and number around four billion per day. A telephone call may create more than one entry in the database.
The program began in 2007 or earlier, but did not become public until 2013, when activist Drew Hendricks found a Powerpoint file about it among materials turned over in response to a FOIA request. Marked as "law enforcement sensitive", the file gives examples of suspects said to have been found with Hemisphere data. Several of the suspects given as examples were wanted in connection to crimes unrelated to drugs, such as making bomb threats, impersonating a military officer, and theft from a jewelry store.
The White House said that the data raises no privacy concerns, a statement contradicted by Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU, who said he would "speculate that one reason for the secrecy of the program is that it would be very hard to justify it to the public or the courts."
The program was likened to proposals made by legislators after the disclosure of PRISM, in particular one by Representative Adam Schiff who had called for a "look at changing the telephone metadata program by having phone companies retain their own data, rather of [sic] the government."
Spokespeople for Sprint, Verizon and T-mobile USA would not comment on whether their companies offered similar services.
- Shane, Scott; Colin Moynihan (2013-09-01). "Drug Agents Use Vast Phone Trove, Eclipsing N.S.A.’s". The New York Times.
- "DEA program linked to vast AT&T database, documents show – CNN Security Clearance - CNN.com Blogs". Security.blogs.cnn.com. 2013-09-02. Retrieved 2013-09-04.
- "Drug agents reportedly have access to bigger phone database than NSA's". Fox News. 2013-09-02. Retrieved 2013-09-04. "[Jaffer] said that the Hemisphere Project raised 'profound privacy concerns,' [...]"
- "PRUDEN: The government keeps no secrets". Washington Times. Retrieved 2013-09-04.
- "AT&T helps DEA track suspected drug dealers with phone call data". New York: NY Daily News. Retrieved 2013-09-04.
- Michael Zennie (2013-09-02). "REVEALED: Secret program gives federal agents nearly instant access to BILLIONS of AT&T phone records without a court order | Mail Online". London: Dailymail.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-09-04.
- Noel Brinkerhoff (2013-09-03). "Top Stories - Forget the NSA; AT&T Helps DEA Collect even more Phone Call Details - AllGov - News". AllGov. Retrieved 2013-09-04.
- Eileen Sullivan and Gene Johnson, Associated Press (2013-09-02). "Drug Agents Plumb Vast Database of Call Records". Nation.time.com. Retrieved 2013-09-04.
- Synopsis of the Hemisphere Project, The New York Times
- Scott Shane interview, September 3, 2013, Democracy Now!
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