- Hemisphere program allows federal agents to access details on rolling database of 4billion calls a day that are process through AT&T switches
- Secret program in place since 2007 includes records dating back to 1987
- Federal agents can issue ‘administrative subpoena’ and AT&T employees will supply call time, location and phone numbers in minutes
- Database is much more expansive than NSA database leaked by Edward Snowden
- Program is run by the Drug Enforcement Administration and meant to catch drug traffickers
PUBLISHED: 01:59 EST, 2 September 2013 | UPDATED: 12:21 EST, 2 September 2013
A secret government program called Hemisphere gives federal agents nearly instantaneous access to billions of AT&T phone records dating as far back as 1987, all without a court order or the oversight of a judge, it was revealed today.
It’s a spying database that dwarfs anything built by the National Security Agency to date – and federal agents have routine access to it to conduct criminal investigations.
The AT&T database contains the location, time, phone number and other metadata from every phone call that crosses the AT&T relay switches – an estimated 4billion calls a day. Because the database captures any call that travels across the company’s lines, calls made by users of other carriers are also included.
Since 2007, federal agents have been able to access the trove of information in minutes – simply by issuing a subpoena. It appears little or no judicial oversight governs the access to this information.
Hemisphere is not classified – but it was secret for nearly five years. It is run by the Drug Enforcement Administration
Hemisphere is not related to any of the National Security Agency spying programs that were revealed by whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
Rather, it is run by law enforcement – primarily the Drug Enforcement Administration. Its stated purpose is help investigate drug traffickers and other complex criminal enterprises. However, it has also been used to arrest jewelry store robbers, a murder suspect and even a woman who was making nuisance bomb threats.
Since the program began six years ago, the government has retrieved information 4,400 times from the database – obtaining data on 11,200 phone numbers. That’s at least twice a day, on average.
The government pays AT&T employees to work alongside federal agents. They have direct access to the database and it is their job to retrieve the information from the company files and hand it over to federal investigators.
The company will hand over the data with only an ‘administrative subpoena’ issued by the law enforcement agency. It often does not require a court order.
The program is not classified – just ‘law enforcement sensitive.’ However, the New York Times reports that there have been no Congressional hearings, nor news reports about Hemisphere since it was adopted six years ago.
The program is meant to help track drug organizations that use disposable ‘burner’ phones and frequently change numbers
Drew Hendricks, an anti-war activist from Port Hadlock, Washington, received a PowerPoint presntation detailing the program as part of a Freedom of Information Act request.
The program is designed to give the federal government fast and direct access to a detailed, expansive AT&T call database – though it uses AT&T employees as an intermediary. An employee of the communications giant is always the one to access the company logs – not a federal agent.
Names are not attached to the call information stored in the database. However, last year AT&T began cross-referencing other databases to hand over the names of any of its subscribers who match the numbers being targeted.
Records go back more than two and a half decades to 1987.
The Times reports that in many cases, no court order or grand jury subpoena is needed to receive these records – meaning that checks and balances on the process are limited or even non-existent.
Hemisphere operates out of three offices – Los Angeles, Houston and Atlanta. It is based in Los Angeles.
Hemisphere is meant to help law enforcement agencies track suspects and criminal enterprises who frequently change phones – using disposable ‘burners’ phones to acquire new numbers every few days or weeks.
Call activity logs also allow federal agents pinpoint which numbers a suspect is calling to help them outline the various parts of a criminal enterprise.
In 2011, the program helped with a bust that seized 136 kilograms of cocaine, one ton of marijuana and ‘really pissed off the Hells Angels in Canada.’
It’s also been used to crack smaller-scale crimes, including the 2012 bust of a robbery ring that targeted jewelry stores, the arrest of a man on charges he murdered a bar bouncer in Rondo Beach, California.
This February, the program was used to help arrest a South Carolina woman who called in 30 bomb threats to schools, hospitals, banks and government offices in South Carolina.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2408681/REVEALED-Secret-program-gives-federal-agents-nearly-instant-access-BILLIONS-AT-amp-T-phone-records-court-order.html#ixzz2dmrauD9y Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook