Last Updated on November 21, 2023
A secretive White House program known as both the Hemisphere Project and the more mundane title of Data Analytical Services, lets warrantless law enforcement officers snoop on the AT&T phone records of American citizens who aren’t even suspected of a crime.
US Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) recently sent a letter to Biden Attorney General Merrick Garland, requesting that information on the Hemisphere Project, under which the White House funds mass warrantless snooping on the AT&T phone records of American citizens, be released to the public.
The Hemisphere Project is “a long-running dragnet surveillance program in which the White House pays AT&T to provide all federal, state, local, and Tribal law enforcement agencies with the ability to request often-warrantless searches of trillions of domestic phone records,” Wyden’s letter to Merrick Garland and the DOJ explains.
“AT&T has kept and queries [sic] as part of the Hemisphere Project call records going back to 1987, with 4 billion new records being added every day,” the letter states, reflecting how massive the surveillance program actually is.
“The scale of the data available to and routinely searched for the benefit of law enforcement under the Hemisphere Project is stunning in its scope,” the letter goes on. “One law enforcement official described the Hemisphere Project as ‘AT&T’s Super Search Engine’ and … ‘Google on Steroids,’ according to emails released by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) under the Freedom of Information Act.”
Wyden’s letter went on to explain that “the Hemisphere Project has been supported by regular funding from the White House,” through multiple administrations, and that federal funding for the program has been re-coded as funding for “Data Analytical Services” which is the same program under a new “generic sounding” name.
What’s more, is that deliberate steps are taken by the federal government to obscure funding for the surveillance program, with Wyden’s letter detailing that “although the Hemisphere Project is paid for with federal funds, they are delivered to AT&T through an obscure grant program, enabling the program to skip an otherwise mandatory federal privacy review.”
“For the past year, I have urged the DOJ to release dozens of pages of material related to the Hemisphere Project, which it first provided to my office in 2019,” Wyden wrote. “This information has been designated ‘Law Enforcement Sensitive,’ which is meant to restrict its public release. I have serious concerns about the legality of this surveillance program, and the materials provided by the DOJ contain troubling information that would justifiably outrage many Americans and other members of Congress.”