AT&T built system for spying on own customers, selling info to law enforcement for millions: report

News that Yahoo reportedly gave in to a court order without a fight and spied on users on behalf of the FBI generated massive public outrage. Now it appears that AT&T has been spying on its customers on behalf of various law enforcement agencies, and that it’s been raking in millions of dollars in exchange for information about users, including their locations.

The telecommunications giant, whose planned $85 billion purchase of Time-Warner faces heavy scrutiny by regulators, created the “Hemisphere” program and used it to make millions of dollars a year peddling users’ personal information to police and other agencies, according to The Daily Beast.

“No warrant is required to make use of the company’s massive trove of data, according to AT&T documents, only a promise from law enforcement to not disclose Hemisphere if an investigation using it becomes public,” said an article Tuesday on the website.

The system “searches trillions of call records and analyzes cellular data to determine where a target is located, with whom he speaks, and potentially why,” the article said.

AT&T developed Hemisphere in 2007, and it’s now used in 28 Drug Enforcement Agency intelligence centers, according to the article. Employees of the telcom reportedly analyze AT&T’s data on users to give information to the DEA.

“At no point does law enforcement directly access AT&T’s data,” the article noted.

It’s not just the DEA that uses Hemisphere, apparently – The Daily Beast said AT&T’s data show that “Hemisphere was used far beyond the war on drugs to include everything from investigations of homicide to Medicaid fraud.”

AT&T collects $100,000 to more than $1 million a year from each police department and sheriff’s agency it serves with Hemisphere, according to the website.

“Harris County, Texas, home to Houston, made its inaugural payment to AT&T of $77,924 in 2007, according to a contract reviewed by The Daily Beast,” the article said. “Four years later, the county’s Hemisphere bill had increased more than tenfold to $940,000.”

SiliconBeat has asked AT&T to provide a response to the article’s claims about Hemisphere, and will update this article with any response provided.

The Daily Beast included with its article an AT&T document describing Hemisphere, in which the firm indicates strong concerns about the AT&T name becoming associated with the surveillance program. Client agencies must agree to avoid using Hemisphere-gathered data as evidence in court except as a last resort, according to the document. And agencies had to agree that if data from Hemisphere were to be given to a third party, that it be “non-attributable to AT&T.”

The company, American Civil Liberties Union technology policy analyst Christopher Soghoian told The Daily Beast, is “mining the data of millions of innocent people, and really built a business and services around the needs of law enforcement.”

Lest fingers be pointed only at the local law enforcement agencies using Hemisphere, it bears mentioning that the program is funded by the federal government, which reimburses local agencies, according to the article.


Photo: A protester with the organization Code Pink  (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)


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  • John J. Jones


    • RamRoddoc

      You do comprehend just why warrants were demanded before “legal” search, or do you? This circumvents due process and will come to no good end for a once free state.

      • John J. Jones

        I have nothing to hide, do you?

  • Naughty Stuff

    Excellent. My list keeps growing.