AT&T developed a product for spying on all its customers and made millions selling it to warrantless copsAT&T’s secret Hemisphere product is a database of calls and call-records on all its customers, tracking their location, movements, and interactions — this data was then sold in secret to American police forces for investigating crimes big and small (even Medicare fraud), on the condition that they never reveal the program’s existence.
The gag order that came with the data likely incentivized police officers to lie about their investigations at trial — something we saw happen repeatedly in the case of Stingrays, whose use was also bound by secrecy demands from their manufacturers. Because the data was sold by AT&T and not compelled by government, all of the Hemisphere surveillance was undertaken without a warrant or judicial review (indeed, it’s likely judges were never told the true story of where the data being entered into evidence by the police really came from — again, something that routinely happened before the existence of Stingray surveillance was revealed).
The millions given to AT&T for its customers’ data came from the federal government under the granting program that also allowed city and town police forces to buy military equipment for civilian policing needs. Cities paid up to a million dollars a year for access to AT&T’s customer records.
A statement of work from 2014 shows how hush-hush AT&T wants to keep Hemisphere:
The Government agency agrees not to use the data as evidence in any judicial or administrative proceedings unless there is no other available and admissible probative evidence.
But those charged with a crime are entitled to know the evidence against them come trial. Adam Schwartz, staff attorney for activist group Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that means AT&T may leave investigators no choice but to construct a false investigative narrative to hide how they use Hemisphere if they plan to prosecute anyone.
EFF is suing the US government to reveal DoJ records on the use of Hemisphere data.