The letter was sent by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) to the Department of Justice (DOJ), with the senator objecting to the program’s legality.
The letter revealed that the surveillance program called Data Analytical Services (DAS) has allowed federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to mine information regarding Americans’ calls for over a decade.
The DAS program was also used to analyze the phone records of countless citizens, including individuals not suspected of any crime and victims. The program uses a technique called chain analysis to target people in direct phone contact with a criminal suspect, as well as anyone those individuals have been in contact with.
A White House memo revealed that the DAS program (formerly called Hemisphere) is run with the help of telecom giant AT&T, which captures and conducts analysis of call records for law enforcement agencies, from local police and sheriffs’ departments to U.S. customs offices and postal inspectors throughout America.
According to records, the White House has provided more than $6 million to the program, which gives law enforcement access to records of calls that use AT&T’s infrastructure – a system of routers and switches that crisscross the country. (Related: WATCHED: CDC purchased location data of 55M phone users to track them during COVID-19 lockdowns.)
In the letter Wyden sent to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Nov. 19, the senator wrote that he had "serious concerns about the legality" of DAS. Wyden also told Garland that he received "troubling information" that "would justifiably outrage many Americans and other members of Congress."
Wyden explained that the DOJ confidentially gave the information to him and that it is categorized as "sensitive but unclassified" by the U.S. government. This means that the data does not pose a risk to national security. However, federal officials like Wyden himself are not allowed to disclose it to the public.
Kim Hart Jonson, an AT&T spokesperson, declined requests to comment on the DAS program, saying only that the company is required by law to comply with a lawful subpoena.
However, there is no law requiring AT&T to store decades’ worth of Americans’ call records for law enforcement purposes.
According to documents, AT&T officials have attended law enforcement conferences in Texas since 2018 to train police officials on how to efficiently use AT&T’s voluntary and revenue-generating assistance.
In 2020, the transparency collective Distributed Denial of Secrets released hundreds of gigabytes of law enforcement data stolen from agencies around the United States.
A review of the published files revealed detailed information about the processes and justifications that agencies use to monitor the call records of criminal suspects, along with their spouses, children, parents and friends.
DAS is managed under a program devoted to drug trafficking, but a leaked document from the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC) also revealed that local police agencies, such as those in Daly City and Oakland, requested DAS data for unsolved cases that were allegedly unrelated to drugs.
In one example, an officer with the Oakland Police Department requested a "Hemisphere analysis" to identify the phone number of a suspect by analyzing the calls of the suspect’s close friends.
One officer who requested information from AT&T under the program received "six months of call data for [a suspect]'s phone, as well as several close associations (his girlfriend, father, sister, mother)."
However, the records did not reveal how AT&T responds to every request.
Leaked law enforcement files also revealed that officials from different agencies, from a U.S. Postal Service inspector to a New York Department of Corrections parole officer, underwent DAS training sessions.
Other participants include port authorities and members of U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, California Highway Patrol, the National Guard and those from other smaller agencies.
The DAS program, which was first revealed by the New York Times (NYT) in September 2013 as Hemisphere, was renamed in 2013. Since then, the surveillance program has mostly operated in secret.
Internal records about the program’s secrecy obtained by NYT at the time revealed that law enforcement had long been instructed to never discuss Hemisphere in official documents.
After the release of the NYT article, former President Barack Obama allegedly suspended funding for the Hemisphere program in 2013.
But even though discretionary funding was withheld over the next three years, a White House memo acquired by WIRED revealed that individual law enforcement organizations across the country were allowed to continue contracting with AT&T directly to maintain access to its data-mining service.
According to the White House memo, funding resumed under former President Donald Trump but was stopped again in 2021. In 2022, under President Joe Biden, the funding resumed again. The White House acknowledged an inquiry but still hasn't provided a comment.
The DAS program is maintained under an affiliated program called HIDTA, which is funded by the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
According to the White House, HIDTA, or "high-intensity drug trafficking area," is a designation assigned to 33 different regions of America. The first five regions mapped out in 1990 included areas around Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and the entire U.S.-Mexico border. They are some of the country's most active drug trafficking areas.
The collection of call record data under DAS is not considered wiretapping because it needs a warrant based on probable cause on U.S. soil. Additionally, the call records stored by AT&T exclude recordings of any conversations.
However, the records include identifying information, such as the caller and recipient’s names, phone numbers and the dates and times the calls were made, for six months or longer.
According to documents released under public records laws, the surveillance program has been used to produce location information on criminal suspects and their known associates. This practice was deemed unconstitutional without a warrant in 2018.
Jonson claimed that requests for location information need the highest level of legal demand, which is a court-issued warrant, except in emergencies. Any orders for a group of people are sometimes referred to as "community of interest" subpoenas. Among privacy advocates, the phrase is synonymous with dragnet surveillance.
In Wyden's letter to Garland, he warned that 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."
No one knows how far back the call records accessible under DAS go. A slide deck released under the Freedom of Information Act in 2014 showed that up to 10 years’ worth of records can be queried under the program, a statistic that differs from other internal documents alleging that AT&T could store decades' worth of data. In contrast, AT&T’s competitors usually keep call records for no more than two years.
According to a senior Wyden aide, the surveillance program exploits many "loopholes" in federal privacy law. For instance, the program operates out of the White House, which exempts it from rules requiring assessments of its impact on privacy.
The White House is also exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, reducing the public’s overall ability to learn more about the program.
Earlier in November, Wyden and other lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced a comprehensive privacy legislation called the Government Surveillance Reform Act. The bill contains numerous provisions that, once enacted, would patch the majority if not all of these loopholes, finally rendering the DAS program explicitly illegal.
Watch the video below to learn how apps allow federal enforcement to track phones.
This video is from the Mckenna channel on Brighteon.com.