September 3, 2013
The Hemisphere Project (HP) is the code name for how agents for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) access AT&T to sift through billions of phone records made by Americans.
Those who benefit or work with HP are admonished never to reveal its identity in Congressional hearings, media reports or any other public forum.
Since 1987, the DEA has worked with AT&T and local law enforcement to assist on cases while monitoring phone data. The HP program was created in 2007 to legitimize their actions.
The HP is funded by the DEA and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to “provide electronic call detail records (CDRs)” to local and federal agencies upon court ordered subpoenas.
HP uses a specialized algorithm that locates new phones by user analysis because they are on a list to be tracked or are currently being monitored. The phone used by the target can be searched and the information given to local police for apprehension of the suspect.
An AT&T switch is used to process the phone call so that surveillance can be attached to the suspect.
AT&T collects information on calls made by their customers and hands over determined “useful” information to investigators. International calls are not excluded.
In fact, there are an estimated 4 billion calls recorded by AT&T that could be translated and sent to the DEA for study.
In as fast as an hour, CDRs can be collected, analyzed and the overview can be emailed to the individual or agency that requested the information.
Date, time and location are part of the data provided.
Non-AT&T customers are traced as well.
Shockingly, since 2007, the LAHP has “processed over 4,000 requests and over 11,200 individual telephone numbers.”
Because of HP, the DEA has been able to seize:
• 136 kilos of cocaine
• 2000 pounds of marijuana
• Approximately 2.2 million dollars
• Several residences, vehicles, and other assets.
• “Plus, we really pissed off the Hells Angel’s in Canada”
Mark Seigel, spokesperson for AT&T said: “While we cannot comment on any particular matter, we, like all other companies, must respond to valid subpoenas issued by law enforcement.”
Jameel Jaffer, deputy director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said : “The government appears to have had a significant role in developing the program, and apparently it’s even paying the salaries of some AT&T employees. To the extent that this is a government program, it’s subject to the Fourth Amendment. In any event, the fact that AT&T is playing such a big role here should be alarming, not reassuring. AT&T is looking out for its shareholders, not ordinary citizens, and its conduct isn’t governed by the Constitution.”
Brian Fallon, spokesman for the Department of Justice (DoJ) explained: “Subpoenaing drug dealers’ phone records is a bread-and-butter tactic in the course of criminal investigations. The records are maintained at all times by the phone company, not the government. This program simply streamlines the process of serving the subpoena to the phone company so law enforcement can quickly keep up with drug dealers when they switch phone numbers to try to avoid detection.”