The New York Times has revealed the Drug Enforcement Administration has an even more extensive collection of U.S. phone records than the National Security Agency. Under a secretive DEA program called the Hemisphere Project, the agency has access to records of every phone call transmitted via AT&T’s infrastructure dating back to 1987. That period covers an even longer stretch of time than the NSA’s collection of phone records, which started under President George W. Bush. Each day, some four billion call records are swept into the database, which is stored by AT&T. The U.S. government then pays for AT&T employees to station themselves inside DEA units, where they can quickly hand over records after agents obtain an administrative subpoena. The DEA says the collection allows it to catch drug dealers who frequently switch phones, but civil liberties advocates say it raises major privacy concerns. Democracy Now! speaks with Scott Shane, national security reporter for The New York Times and co-author of the report, "Drug Agents Use Vast Phone Trove, Eclipsing NSA’s."
SCOTT SHANE: "Well, as you mentioned, I wrote this article with Colin Moynihan, a colleague at The New York Times, and he received from an activist in Washington state, named Drew Hendricks, a 27-slide PowerPoint, which was prepared by AT&T and government agents, apparently DEA or possibly other government agencies, and essentially they’re training slides to introduce folks who are going to be working on the Hemisphere Project, how it works and what it can do. And Drew Hendricks, the activist in Washington, got these slides as part of a series of public information requests. He’s sort of a peace activist out there, and he had been helping some folks with a lawsuit and just, you know, fired off a bunch of public information requests to police agencies in Washington state and other places on the West Coast. This set of slides came back with one of those requests."
"Drew Hendricks believes it may have been sent actually by accident, included by accident. And so—but, in fact, it’s unclassified. It’s marked "Law enforcement sensitive," but it’s unclassified, and it actually states that the Hemisphere Project is unclassified. What’s kind of remarkable to us is that this has been going on for at least six years under the name Hemisphere Project, and it’s unclassified, but no one has ever learned about it. I couldn’t find a single reference to it in the Nexis database or on the web. And so, they’ve kept it very well hidden, and indeed some of the slides say, if you get information from Hemisphere, never reveal the source of the information. So, the government has kept this very, very well hidden, along with AT&T."
Full transcript after the jump.