updated 02:37 pm EDT, Mon September 2, 2013
Records extend beyond AT&T customers
The Drug Enforcement Agency and other government agencies have reportedly paid AT&T for access to a database of phone records extending back to 1987, according to a New York Times report. Referred to as the "Hemisphere Project," the program is said to store data regarding phone calls routed through AT&T switches, rather than focusing solely on records for AT&T customers.
AT&T employees are reportedly placed alongside DEA agents and other law-enforcement officials in a number of units across the country, helping to find records relevant to ongoing investigations. Agencies have been known to subpoena such records, however this is the first time the government has acknowledged the depth of the records and a deeper collaborative effort with a private company.
The disclosure has been compared to recent leaks surrounding the National Security Agency's phone-records database, which is claimed to only go back four years. The AT&T records are further said to include additional information, such as the location of callers.
"All requestors are instructed to never refer to Hemisphere in any official document," a presentation slide obtained by the New York Times reads.
Justice Department spokesman Brian Fallon dismissed the significance of the findings, claiming that "subpoenaing drug dealers' phone records is a bread-and-butter tactic in the course of criminal investigations" and Hemisphere simply "streamlines the process."
It remains unclear if the government has similar programs in place with other major US carriers, such as Sprint and Verizon.