A Hemisphere of (YOUR) Information
If you thought the NSA had the largest collection of citizens’ digital communications, think again. That honor belongs to AT&T, which has been archiving the metadata of all phone and email traffic that passes through its global network since at least 2007. Read on to learn what this metadata can be used for, and who it's being sold to…
What is the Hemisphere Program?
Metadata is the "envelope information" of emails and phone calls, but not the actual content of those messages. Even so, it is possible to analyze the mountain of information that AT&T has collected for the past 10 years (some say the data collection dates as far back as 1987) and infer the identity, current and past locations, and activities of a suspect. The company sells such analyses to law enforcement under a highly secretive program called “Hemisphere.”
AT&T has a long history of aiding government surveillance in ways that go above and beyond the law’s requirements for such cooperation. In 2006, whistleblower Mark Klein revealed hat he was ordered to install wiretapping equipment in a secret room at AT&T’s San Francisco network operations center. From 2001 to 2011, that gear siphoned to the NSA all the email metadata - including sender and recipient addresses, and IP addresses - that passed through AT&T’s San Francisco NOC, including traffic that originated on other providers’ networks.
Where other service providers require a court order before turning customers’ data over to law enforcement, all Hemisphere requires is an administrative subpoena issued by a law enforcement agency, a heap of your tax money, and a promise that law enforcement will never reveal the existence of Hemisphere.
Prosecutors have abandoned criminal cases in order to avoid being forced to reveal their use of Hemisphere. But more often, law enforcement fabricates a new investigation that leads to the same evidence revealed by Hemisphere, employing search warrants and legal surveillance techniques.
County sheriffs and municipal police pay $100,000 to $1 million annually for Hemisphere services. The federal government reimburses local agencies for Hemisphere expenses under a Dept. of Homeland Security grant program. So you can imagine how lucrative this program must be for AT&T.
Originally developed to help the Drug Enforcement Agency nab dealers who swap phones frequently, Hemisphere’s market has been expanded to include everything from homicide to Medicaid fraud investigations. The unmatched size of AT&T’s database enables the company to find patterns that can link one device to another and to their user.
The Obama administration has said that the program raises no privacy concern. But privacy advocates object to AT&T’s trolling through many customers’ metadata in search of leads to criminal suspects that the company can sell profitably to law enforcement. “They say they only cooperate with law enforcement as required, and frankly, that’s offensive when they are mining the data of millions of innocent people, and really built a business and services around the needs of law enforcement,” said ACLU technology analyst Christopher Soghoian.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is struggling to obtain information about Hemisphere. The EFF’s first Freedom Of Information Act request to the Dept. of Justice was “answered” with a few pages of heavily redacted material. A lawsuit filed by the EFF to compel full disclosure of Hemisphere documents stalled in May, 2016. The judge in that case vacated the suit and asked both parties to submit supplementary briefs.
Verizon and Sprint have not commented on Hemisphere, except to reiterate their data retention policies. Verizon stores metadata for only one year, and Sprint keeps it for 18 months. By contrast, AT&T has been collecting, storing and selling access to this data for almost 10 (and perhaps 30) years. The massive Hemisphere database is not necessary to AT&T’s operation or to meet legal storage requirements. Make no mistake: AT&T has made your metadata into a product, and is selling it to law enforcement, which pays with your tax money.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 15 Nov 2016
|For Fun: Buy Bob a Snickers.|
Check Out This Free Windows Clone
The Top Twenty
Geekly Update - 16 November 2016
Post your Comments, Questions or Suggestions
Free Tech Support -- Ask Bob Rankin
Subscribe to AskBobRankin Updates: Free Newsletter
Copyright © 2005
- Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved
Article information: AskBobRankin -- A Hemisphere of (YOUR) Information (Posted: 15 Nov 2016)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved