Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

U.S. drug agents plumb vast database of call records

SEATTLE — For at least six years, federal drug and other agents have had access to billions of phone call records in a collaboration with AT&T that officials have kept secret, newly released documents show.

The program, previously reported by ABC News and the New York Times, is called the Hemisphere Project. It's paid for by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and it lets investigators armed with subpoenas mine the company's database to help track down drug traffickers or other suspects who switch cellphones to avoid detection.

If agents become aware of a phone number previously used by a suspect, they can write an administrative subpoena, with no judicial oversight required, for records about that number.

Hemisphere analysts can track the number's call history or other characteristics and compare it with the history and characteristics of phones still in use — thus winnowing down a list of possible current phone numbers for the suspect, along with the location.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the program raises several privacy concerns. For example, if a query returns call records that are similar to, but not, those of the suspect, agents could be reviewing call records of people who haven't done anything wrong.

The details of Hemisphere come amid a national debate about the federal government's access to phone records, particularly the bulk collection of phone records for national security purposes. Hemisphere, however, takes a different approach from that of the National Security Agency, which maintains a database of call records handed over by phone companies as authorized by the Patriot Act.

"Subpoenaing drug dealers' phone records is a bread-and-butter tactic in the course of criminal investigations," Justice Department spokesman Brian Fallon said in an email. "The records are maintained at all times by the phone company, not the government."

AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel said in an email, "While we cannot comment on any particular matter, we, like all other companies, must respond to valid subpoenas issued by law enforcement."

U.S. drug agents plumb vast database of call records 09/02/13 [Last modified: Monday, September 2, 2013 9:29pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. South Korea military: North Korea fires unidentified projectile

    World

    SEOUL — North Korea launched a ballistic missile early today that flew 280 miles and landed in Japan's exclusive economic zone, the South Korean military and the Japanese government said.

    S. Korean President Moon Jae-in is assessing the launch.
  2. Rays blow lead, rally, blow lead, rally again to beat Twins in 15 (w/video)

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — The Rays sure made it interesting Sunday, taking an early lead, watching their beleaguered bullpen blow it, rallying to tie in the ninth, battling the Twins to take a lead in the 14th then giving it up again.

    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 28: Evan Longoria #3 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates scoring a run against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on May 28, 2017 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) 700010990
  3. Marijuana extract sharply cuts seizures in severe form of epilepsy

    Medicine

    An oil derived from the marijuana plant sharply reduces violent seizures in young people suffering from a rare, severe form of epilepsy, according to a study published last week that gives more hope to parents who have been clamoring for access to the medication.

  4. 'I ain't fit to live': Police say Mississippi gunman kills 8

    Crime

    BROOKHAVEN, Miss. — A man who got into an argument with his estranged wife and her family over his children was arrested Sunday in a house-to-house shooting rampage in rural Mississippi that left eight people dead, including his mother-in-law and a sheriff's deputy.

    People embrace Sunday outside the Bogue Chitto, Miss., house where eight people were killed during a shooting rampage Saturday in Lincoln County, Miss.
  5. Kushner's Russia ties questioned as Trump cites media 'lies'

    National

    WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats on Sunday demanded to hear directly from top White House adviser Jared Kushner over allegations of proposed secret back-channel communications with Russia, saying the security clearance of President Donald Trump's son-in-law may need to be revoked.