The New York Times reports that a long-running DEA program, The Hemisphere Project, involves privacy breaches far beyond the scope of the NSA’s recently criticized activities. The DEA works with AT&T employees assigned directly to their investigation units, accessing AT&T’s phone data going back decades. In order to ‘streamline’ the process of investigation, judicial oversight is virtually absent, using ‘administrative subpoenas’. These subpoenas are not issued by a grand jury or judge, but by the DEA, itself.
The scale and longevity of the data storage appears to be unmatched by other government programs, including the N.S.A.’s gathering of phone call logs under the Patriot Act. The N.S.A. stores the data for nearly all calls in the United States, including phone numbers and time and duration of calls, for five years. Hemisphere covers every call that passes through an AT&T switch – not just those made by AT&T customers – and includes calls dating back 26 years, according to Hemisphere training slides bearing the logo of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Some four billion call records are added to the database every day, the slides say; technical specialists say a single call may generate more than one record. Unlike the N.S.A. data, the Hemisphere data includes information on the locations of callers.