AT&T’s secret "Hemisphere" product is a database of calls and call-records on all its customers, tracking their location, movements, and interactions — this data was then sold in secret to American police forces for investigating crimes big and small (even Medicare fraud), on the condition that they never reveal the program’s existence.
The gag order that came with the data likely incentivized police officers to lie about their investigations at trial — something we saw happen repeatedly in the case of Stingrays, whose use was also bound by secrecy demands from their manufacturers. Because the data was sold by AT&T and not compelled by government, all of the Hemisphere surveillance was undertaken without a warrant or judicial review (indeed, it’s likely judges were never told the true story of where the data being entered into evidence by the police really came from — again, something that routinely happened before the existence of Stingray surveillance was revealed).
The millions given to AT&T for its customers’ data came from the federal government under the granting program that also allowed city and town police forces to buy military equipment for civilian policing needs. Cities paid up to a million dollars a year for access to AT&T’s customer records.
EFF is suing the US government to reveal DoJ records on the use of Hemisphere data.
AT&T has a long history of illegal spying. In 2006, we learned that AT&T built a secret room in its San Francisco switching center to allow the NSA unfettered access to the nation’s internet communications. In 2015, we learned that AT&T was the NSA’s favorite mass surveillance contractor, and the NSA used that contractor relationship to ensure that the most radioactively illegal spying took place outside its environs, shifting the worst criminality to AT&T.
AT&T is presently seeking regulatory approval to merge with Time Warner, one of its biggest competitors. An earlier bid to merge with T-Mobile in 2011 was scuttled, in part because leaked documents revealed that the two companies planned to use the merger as a pretense to raise prices.
A statement of work from 2014 shows how hush-hush AT&T wants to keep Hemisphere.
“The Government agency agrees not to use the data as evidence in any judicial or administrative proceedings unless there is no other available and admissible probative evidence,” it says.
But those charged with a crime are entitled to know the evidence against them come trial. Adam Schwartz, staff attorney for activist group Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that means AT&T may leave investigators no choice but to construct a false investigative narrative to hide how they use Hemisphere if they plan to prosecute anyone.
Once AT&T provides a lead through Hemisphere, then investigators use routine police work, like getting a court order for a wiretap or following a suspect around, to provide the same evidence for the purpose of prosecution. This is known as “parallel construction.”
“This document here is striking,” Schwartz told The Daily Beast. “I’ve seen documents produced by the government regarding Hemisphere, but this is the first time I’ve seen an AT&T document which requires parallel construction in a service to government. It’s very troubling and not the way law enforcement should work in this country.”
AT&T Is Spying on Americans for Profit, New Documents Reveal [Kenneth Lipp/The Daily Beast]
(Image: Att-co-houston, Bill Bradford, CC-BY)