(TruthAndLiberty.com) – Picture a scenario where every phone call you make is meticulously logged by someone. This person records every detail: who you’re speaking with, the time and place of your call, and its duration. But the surveillance doesn’t end there. It extends to the people you communicate with, and then to those they talk to, creating a vast web of tracked calls. This isn’t fiction; it’s the reality for countless Americans using AT&T’s network.
A letter uncovered by WIRED sheds light on a covert surveillance program known as Data Analytical Services (DAS), previously called Hemisphere. This program, operated by AT&T in collaboration with law enforcement at various levels, analyzes over a trillion domestic phone records in the U.S. annually. DAS uses chain analysis to scrutinize not just those directly in contact with criminal suspects, but also their contacts, sweeping up data of innocent individuals.
Law enforcement agencies can access records from any call traversing AT&T’s extensive network, including phone numbers, call dates, times, durations, locations, and even the subscribers’ personal information. The DAS program, functioning without judicial oversight or public transparency, raises significant privacy and civil liberty concerns, as it seems to violate the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Contradicting the USA Freedom Act of 2015, which aimed to curb bulk phone record collection by the NSA, DAS continues this practice under a different guise. While the NSA must now request records case-by-case with a court order, DAS circumvents this, with AT&T storing records for law enforcement.
DAS’s existence and operations are not well known, yet it’s been active for over a decade, with funding from the White House exceeding $6 million. While AT&T asserts its legal obligation to comply with lawful subpoenas, it’s not mandated to store Americans’ call records for decades for law enforcement purposes. This voluntary cooperation includes training for law enforcement on using the DAS program.
Funded by the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) under the HIDTA program, DAS focuses on regions with significant drug trafficking. Despite temporary funding suspensions by Presidents Obama and Trump, the program’s funding was resumed by President Biden in 2021.
Lawmakers and activists, including Senator Ron Wyden, have challenged DAS, questioning its legality and impact. Wyden has urged the U.S. Attorney General to investigate, citing “troubling information” that could outrage many. Despite legal challenges and public records requests, DAS has evaded significant scrutiny, claiming protection under trade secrets and law enforcement privileges.
AT&T maintains that it’s merely complying with legal requirements, deferring to the Justice Department for further comments. Meanwhile, individuals concerned about phone surveillance have limited options, like using encrypted apps, alternative communication methods, or privacy tools. However, these measures offer partial protection, as DAS can still access phone metadata and link it to individuals through various analysis methods. This program represents a significant intrusion into American citizens’ privacy, operating beyond public oversight and raising critical questions about civil liberties and government surveillance.
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