Monday, September 02, 2013

US drug agency partners with AT&T for access to 'vast database' of call records

(Guardian) US law enforcement officers working on anti-drugs operations have had access to a vast database of call records dating back to 1987, supplied by the phone company AT&T, the New York Times has revealed.

The project, known as Hemisphere, gives federal and local officers working on drug cases access to a database of phone metadata populated by more than four billion new call records each day.

Unlike the controversial call record accesses obtained by the NSA, the data is stored by AT&T, not the government, but officials can access individual's phone records within an hour of an administrative subpoena.

AT&T receives payment from the government in order to sit its employees alongside drug units to aid with access to the data.

The AT&T database includes every phone call which passes through the carrier's infrastructure, not just those made by AT&T customers.

Details of the program – which was marked as law enforcement sensitive, but not classified – were released in a series of slides to an activist, Drew Hendricks, in response to freedom of information requests, and then passed to reporters at the New York Times.

Officials were instructed to take elaborate steps to ensure the secrecy of the Hemisphere program, a task described as a "formidable challenge" in the slide deck, which detailed the steps agencies had taken to "try and keep the program under the radar".

The instructions added that the system should be used to generate leads towards new material, with call records obtained through standard subpoenas then used to provide evidence. The "protecting the program" section concluded that "all requestors are instructed to never refer to Hemisphere in any official document".

A key purpose of the Hemisphere database appears to be tracking "burner" phones used by those in the drug trade, and popularized in the long-running drama The Wire. Slides published in the Times reveal details on how Hemisphere traces "dropped" phones and "additional" phones used by law enforcement targets.

Read full article here.


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