Law Enforcement and AT&T’s Hemisphere

In 2013, the New York Times released an article about the NSA and its large scale, warrantless collection of personal information from United States Citizens. The NSA was caught storing the private information of U.S. citizens from materials such as texts, phone calls, emails, and web search history.

In 2016, it has been revealed that there are even more warrantless digital searches are being conducted on United States Citizens, but this time it’s AT&T doing the collecting.

Through its program named “Hemisphere,” the company has been selling user’s call records to organizations that range from local law enforcement to large federal agencies like the DEA, FBI, and CIA. Each department was purchasing call records for anywhere from $100,000 to over one million dollars per year. Departments such have the DEA have on site AT&T personnel helping them accumulate the company’s 26 years’ worth of records.

The Daily Beast recently released a document that demonstrates how AT&T can give law enforcement a lead through Hemisphere, and law enforcement can then act on that lead without a warrant, forming what it known as “parallel construction” afterwards, like getting a court order to wiretap a phone or follow someone. But, now with Hemisphere law enforcement officials do not need to find a judge to grant them a warrant in the middle of the night. The cops can just issue a subpoena without having probable cause, and this type of policing doesn’t sit well with the American people.

When news broke about the project, AT&T released this statement: “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.”

Although, ACLU technology policy analyst Christopher Soghoian had this to say on the matter “the issue is that once a company creates a huge surveillance apparatus like this and provides it to law enforcement, they then have to provide it whenever the government asks. They’ve developed this massive program and of course they’re going to sell it to as many people as possible.”

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