In the 2013 Times report, Project Hemisphere was branded as a cooperative effort between AT&T and the Federal Drug Administration. It was said that the communication corporation used its data-mining software to surveil its phone records, analyzing and handing over information to authorities. The data includes user locations, timing of conversations, as well as possible reasons for talks.
On Tuesday, the Daily Beast released AT&T documents detailing that the corporation has been quietly cooperating with law enforcement for years, providing huge amounts of data on customers without going through the legal channels required by US law.
Episodes include the concealed facilitation by AT&T into far-reaching homicide and Medicaid fraud inquiries.
The only condition that AT&T laid down on the federal surveillance agencies was that the phone company not be revealed to have freely participated in investigations. One paper details that the corporation sought to disallow law enforcement to use evidence obtained through Project Hemisphere in court.
Adam Schwartz, a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, explained that the request pushed investigators to create false investigative narratives, that allowed for digging up evidence on suspects and keeping their sources hidden.
In the meantime, AT&T enjoyed growing revenues from allowing authorities to use Project Hemisphere. According to documents, the spy-program earnings grew, from $77,924 in 2007, to $940,000 in 2011.
Christopher Soghoian, an ACLU analyst, sees Project Hemisphere as a natural evolution of AT&T’s cooperation with federal surveillance networks.
“They’ve developed this massive program and of course they’re going to sell it to as many people as possible,” he said to the Daily Beast.
The revelation has stirred controversy in the US, especially in the wake of the recently-announced merger deal between AT&T and Time Warner, which still must undergo regulatory scrutiny before being closed.