Secret White House Surveillance Program Gives Cops Access to US Trillions
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Wired: A little-known surveillance program tracks more than a trillion domestic phone records within the United States each year, according to a letter obtained by WIRED that US Senator Ron Wyden sent to the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Sunday, challenging the legality of the program. . According to the letter, the surveillance program now known as Data Analysis Services (DAS) has for more than a decade allowed federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to mine Americans’ call details, analyzing the phone records of countless people who are not suspected of committing any crime, including… That’s the victims. Using a technique known as chain analysis, the program targets not only those who are in direct telephone contact with the criminal suspect, but anyone those individuals have had contact with as well.
The DAS program, formerly known as Hemisphere, is operated in coordination with telecom giant AT&T, which captures and performs analysis of U.S. call logs for law enforcement agencies, from local police and sheriff’s departments to U.S. Customs offices and postal inspectors across the country. , according to a White House memo reviewed by WIRED. Records show that, over the past decade, the White House has provided more than $6 million for the program, which allows the targeting of logs of any calls that use AT&T’s infrastructure – a maze of routers and switches that crisscross the United States. In a letter to US Attorney General Merrick Garland on Sunday, Wyden wrote that he had “serious concerns about the legality” of the DAS program, adding that the “troubling information” he received would “justifiably anger many other Americans and members of Congress.” This information, which Wyden says the Department of Justice provided to him confidentially, is considered “sensitive but unclassified” by the US government, meaning that although it poses no national security risk, federal officials, such as Wyden, are prohibited from disclosing it to the public, according to the senator’s letter. AT&T spokesman Kim Hart Johnson said only that the company is required by law to comply with a legal subpoena. However, “there is no law requiring AT&T to store Americans’ call records for decades for law enforcement purposes,” As Wired notes: “Documents reviewed by WIRED show that AT&T officials attended law enforcement conferences in Texas in 2018 to train police officials on how best to take advantage of AT&T’s volunteer, albeit revenue-generating, assistance.”
“The collection of call log data under DAS does not constitute wiretapping, which on US soil would require a court order based on probable cause. Call logs stored by AT&T do not include recordings of any conversations. Instead, the logs include a range of identifying information , such as the names of the caller and recipient, phone numbers, and the dates and times they made calls for six months or more at a time.” It’s unclear exactly how far back call logs can be accessed under DAS, although a slide deck released under the Freedom of Information Act in 2014 states they can be queried for up to 10 years.