Documents obtained by The Daily Beast suggest that AT&T is making millions of dollars selling user data to law enforcers. In a report published on October 25, The Daily Beast alleges that AT&T created a program with the express purpose of marketing and distributing user data for profit on the promise that police use of the program wouldn’t be disclosed, should an investigation ever go public.
Project Hemisphere is the name given to AT&T’s initiative which, according to The Daily Beast, analyzes “trillions of call records” to determine “where a target is located, with whom [he or she] speaks, and potentially why.” AT&T is believed to have records of every call, text message, Skype chat, or other communication that has passed through its network, dating as far back as 1987. Hemisphere connects the dots.
The New York Times claimed that the same project was used in a drugs case in an article from 2013. The Daily Beast says that the documents it recently obtained show Hemisphere’s uses stretch beyond the war-on-drugs and encompass everything from “investigations of homicide to Medicaid fraud.”
Telecommunication companies are legally obligated to hand over records for police matters when requested. However, it’s alleged that AT&T is going to greater lengths to provide support in these matters in the pursuit of financial gain. “Sheriff and police departments pay from $100,000 to upward of $1 million a year or more for Hemisphere access,” wrote The Daily Beast.
AT&T’s records are also said to be particularly easy to access, requiring only an “administrative subpoena” rather than a warrant from a judge.
The New York Times says that the “scale and longevity” of AT&T’s data trove appears to be “unmatched by other government programs, including the N.S.A.’s gathering of phone call logs under the Patriot Act.” Reportedly, AT&T retains cell tower data (proving you were in a specific area at a particular time) from as far back as 2008, while competing carriers Verizon and Sprint both retain data for no more than 18 months.
Meanwhile, AT&T recently announced its $85.4 billion acquisition of media giant Time Warner. Both major party presidential campaigns are reported to be concerned about the move.