Thursday, October 27, 2016
AT&T is being accused of spying on customers for money by the local, state, and federal law enforcement
AT&T is reportedly running a profitable spy program capable of pinpointing where a customer is, who he has spoken to, and why. The allegations come from an extensive report by The Daily Beast, which obtained documentation that details a program known as “Project Hemisphere.”
According to the report, Hemisphere is a product developed, marketed, and sold at the cost of “millions of dollars per year to taxpayers.” It’s allegedly run by the carrier for the purpose of searching call records and analyzing cellular data, which could potentially provide leads in investigations.
Back in 2013, when Hemisphere was first revealed by The New York Times, the tool was described as an essential counter-narcotics tool.
AT&T documentation provided by The Daily Beast stipulates that law enforcement must promise not to talk about Hemisphere’s existence. The carrier even says the government may not use the data as evidence in any judicial or administrative proceedings unless it’s necessary.
While telecom companies are legally obligated to hand over records, AT&T has apparently found a way to make the operation profitable.
The Daily Beast explains:
AT&T has a unique power to extract information from its metadata because it retains so much of it. The company owns more than three-quarters of U.S. landline switches, and the second largest share of the nation’s wireless infrastructure and cellphone towers, behind Verizon. AT&T retains its cell tower data going back to July 2008, longer than other providers. Verizon holds records for a year and Sprint for 18 months.
The report highlights a murder from 2013 in which law enforcement turned to Hemisphere, which helped provide the location of a suspect in a murder investigation. Hemisphere is reportedly used in at least 28 intelligence centers across the country, which are staffed by federal and local law enforcement.
Law enforcement allegedly pays as much as $1 million a year for access to Hemisphere, all of which is coming out of the taxpayer’s pocket. The product has been called unconstitutionally invasive by the EFF, American Civil Liberties Union, and Electronic Privacy Information Center.
The new documents revealing AT&T’s profits from Hemisphere comes at an unfortunate time for the carrier, which is currently seeking to purchase Time Warner for an astonishing $85.4 billion.
“Like other communications companies, if a government agency seeks customer call records through a subpoena, court order or other mandatory legal process, we are required by law to provide this non-content information, such as the phone numbers and the date and time of calls. These types of legal demands are referenced in the law enforcement section of our Transparency Report.”