When the iPhone first came out, it ushered in a new generation of smartphone. People waited for days, stayed up overnight and stood in long lines to get their device. Sold exclusively through AT&T's service contracts, they were THE thing. You just weren't cool unless you had an iPhone. And now the DEA was thrilled you got one. Why? Because AT&T is in cahoots with the DEA and is selling your information to them. The phone giant is spying on you -- and doing it on their own and for profit.
You thought the NSA was snooping. Well you haven't heard the least of it. The NSA is a federal program, and arguably has the right to use whatever is at their disposal to keep us safe from national security concerns.
But now, through the investigative reporting of the New York Times, it seems our DEA division of the government has been farming out, subcontracting their work, to AT&T, a non-government, publicly traded company. AT&T took their own initiative to spy on you, then sell the information to the DEA.
Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile are not listed on the participant list of this clandestine project known as The Hemisphere Project. It doesn't mean these other carriers don't participate -- just they haven't been identified yet in recently released documents.
The Hemisphere Project, a partnership between federal and local drug officials and AT&T that has not previously been reported, involves an extremely close association between the government and the telecommunications giant.
The government pays AT&T to place its employees in drug-fighting units around the country. Those employees sit alongside Drug Enforcement Administration agents and local detectives and supply them with the phone data from as far back as 1987.
The project comes to light at a time of vigorous public debate over the proper limits on government surveillance and on the relationship between government agencies and communications companies. It offers the most significant look to date at the use of such large-scale data for law enforcement, rather than for national security.
A series of 27 slides relating to the program and bearing the logo of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy reveals how the information collection, by non-security cleared people was done and how it was disseminated. No legal oversight was implemented, This was a rogue operation and the DEA paid billions for it.
Though AT&T was the major culprit in this invasion of privacy, Hemisphere covers every call that passes through an AT&T switch — not just those made by AT&T customers — and includes calls dating back 26 years, according to Hemisphere training slides.
The program was started in 2007, according to the slides, and has been carried out in great secrecy.
“All requestors are instructed to never refer to Hemisphere in any official document,” one slide says. A search of the Nexis database found no reference to the program in news reports or Congressional hearings.
So you may be wondering how these records were accessed --“administrative subpoenas,” those issued not by a grand jury or a judge but by a federal agency, in this case the D.E.A. And the records were stored by AT&T, not the federal government. Any employee, no matter what their level in the organization, could conceivably have access.
Our fourth amendment rights are once again being challenged. Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union:
“I’d speculate that one reason for the secrecy of the program is that it would be very hard to justify it to the public or the courts,” he said. "While the database remained in AT&T’s possession, “the integration of government agents into the process means there are serious Fourth Amendment concerns.”
Maybe it's time that the war on drugs became a lesser priority and the war on poverty, education, equal rights, immigration, ecology, voter rights and human dignity started to trump this waste of money. Especially now that the Justice Department has said they won't be prosecuting legal marijuana users or businesses, we can focus this Hemisphere Project money into useful purposes.
Don't just stand idly by texting or tweeting on your iPhone. Make a statement. If you're with AT&T and your current contract is up, make sure you chose an alternative carrier. Hit AT&T where it hurts -- unless you like having your calls traced and your privacy infringed upon.