AT&T is earning millions from taxpayers by secretly helping the government and its law enforcement organs crack cases by providing information on trillions of telephone calls.
The existence of the controversial program, which is known as Hemisphere, was first reported back in 2013 and now The Daily Beast has revealed that AT&T is making millions of dollars from the scheme although the exact amount has not been revealed.
It has been criticized by civil liberties advocates for serving as what they say is essentially an espionage program targeting US civilians.
Hemisphere enables government agencies to tap into phone records and pinpoint the locations of cellular phone users, which law enforcement officials say is key to helping in the fight against narcotics traffickers.
The program has been up and running since 2007 and gives police access to a database which stores phone calls that span decades.
The Hemisphere program has alarmed civil liberties groups to the point that they took the government to court demanding that more information about its collaboration with AT&T be made public.
Last year, one organization, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, sued both the Drug Enforcement Agency and the California State Attorney General in an effort to force them to release full documentation regarding their cooperation with the Hemisphere program.
‘Through the Hemisphere program, AT&T assists federal and local law enforcement in accessing and analyzing its massive database of call detail records (CDRs) – information on phone numbers dialed and received, as well as the time, date, and length of call and in some instances location information,’ the EEF said.
‘More specifically, Hemisphere has access to telecommunication ‘switches’ operated by AT&T that guide telephone calls. Because other providers use AT&T ‘switches’ for their calls, the database contains call detail records regardless of carrier. The database has records concerning local, long distance, cellular, and international calls.’
EEF initially filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get the government to release records about Hemisphere, but once it received documents that were heavily redacted, it went to court.
Law enforcement officials in California used Hemisphere to make an arrest in the November 2013 killing of the McStay family.
Joseph McStay, 40, his wife, Summer, 43, and their two children, Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3, were bludgeoned to death and buried in makeshift graves in the desert.
It took local sheriffs a year before arresting the suspect, Charles Merritt.