AT&T is making 'millions' by helping the government 'spy' on its citizens with a secretive telephone surveillance programDaily Mail
October 26, 2016
AT&T is earning millions from taxpayers by secretly helping the government and its law enforcement organs crack cases by providing information on trillions of telephone calls.
The existence of the controversial program, which is known as Hemisphere, was first reported back in 2013 and now The Daily Beast has revealed that AT&T is making millions of dollars from the scheme although the exact amount has not been revealed.
It has been criticized by civil liberties advocates for serving as what they say is essentially an espionage program targeting US civilians.
Hemisphere enables government agencies to tap into phone records and pinpoint the locations of cellular phone users, which law enforcement officials say is key to helping in the fight against narcotics traffickers.
The program has been up and running since 2007 and gives police access to a database which stores phone calls that span decades.
The Hemisphere program has alarmed civil liberties groups to the point that they took the government to court demanding that more information about its collaboration with AT&T be made public.
Last year, one organization, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, sued both the Drug Enforcement Agency and the California State Attorney General in an effort to force them to release full documentation regarding their cooperation with the Hemisphere program.
'Through the Hemisphere program, AT&T assists federal and local law enforcement in accessing and analyzing its massive database of call detail records (CDRs) - information on phone numbers dialed and received, as well as the time, date, and length of call and in some instances location information,' the EEF said.
'More specifically, Hemisphere has access to telecommunication 'switches' operated by AT&T that guide telephone calls. Because other providers use AT&T 'switches' for their calls, the database contains call detail records regardless of carrier. The database has records concerning local, long distance, cellular, and international calls.'
EEF initially filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get the government to release records about Hemisphere, but once it received documents that were heavily redacted, it went to court.
Law enforcement officials in California used Hemisphere to make an arrest in the November 2013 killing of the McStay family.
Joseph McStay, 40, his wife, Summer, 43, and their two children, Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3, were bludgeoned to death and buried in makeshift graves in the desert.
It took local sheriffs a year before arresting the suspect, Charles Merritt.
Authorities relied on his girlfriend's phone records, which indicated that he was near the grave site and used his cellular device while there, according to The Daily Beast.
The Hemisphere revelations have prompted observers to draw comparisons to the Edward Snowden case.
In 2013, Snowden, a system administrator by trade who at the time was a contractor working for the National Security Agency, copied and leaked masses of classified documents to journalists.
The documents revealed massive domestic surveillance programs begun in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
The programs collected the telephone metadata records of millions of Americans and examined emails from overseas.
Snowden, who was granted asylum in Russia, is wanted by the US government for allegedly violating the Espionage Act and for stealing government property.
Privacy advocates have argued that the secrecy with which the government operates in implementing surveillance programs against its own nationals violate constitutional protections and thus necessitates the work of whistleblowers like Snowden.
AT&T's cozy relationship with the US government may come in handy at a time when it is seeking regulators' approval for a mega-merger with Time Warner.
AT&T and Time Warner say that their $85.4 billion merger will lead to innovative new experiences, but the deal could also hurt consumers in subtle ways.
If regulators approve the biggest deal of the year, AT&T would reign over both the production and distribution of media, since shows and movies created by Time Warner would then be fed to its customers' computers, phones and TVs.