Big Brother Is Watching

After Sept 11, 2001, it is a known fact that the US Government ratcheted up the surveillance on all activities around this country. Even beyond the 2013 Edward Snowden leaks that first set a spotlight on this sort of Government surveillance, I think people sort of ignored the reality that this was happening. These sorts of programs make so many political arguments (on both sides of the aisle) about “government overreach” pretty ironic. And in a revelation that can hardly be a surprise to anyone, it was published this week that a deeply buried DoJ surveillance program – code named “Hemisphere” – has for years monitored trillions of innocent phone calls, and then took that data and applied high level analysis to find ‘needle in the haystack’ behavioral trends.

A little-known surveillance program tracks more than a trillion domestic phone records within the United States each year, according to a letter WIRED obtained that was sent by US senator Ron Wyden to the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Sunday, challenging the program’s legality.

According to the letter, a surveillance program now known as Data Analytical Services (DAS) has for more than a decade allowed federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to mine the details of Americans’ calls, analyzing the phone records of countless people who are not suspected of any crime, including victims. Using a technique known as chain analysis, the program targets not only those in direct phone contact with a criminal suspect but anyone with whom those individuals have been in contact as well.

The DAS program, formerly known as Hemisphere, is run in coordination with the telecom giant AT&T, which captures and conducts analysis of US call records for law enforcement agencies, from local police and sheriffs’ departments to US customs offices and postal inspectors across the country, according to a White House memo reviewed by WIRED. Records show that the White House has provided more than $6 million to the program, which allows the targeting of the records of any calls that use AT&T’s infrastructure—a maze of routers and switches that crisscross the United States.

In a letter to US attorney general Merrick Garland on Sunday, Wyden wrote that he had “serious concerns about the legality” of the DAS program, adding that “troubling information” he’d received “would justifiably outrage many Americans and other members of Congress.” That information, which Wyden says the DOJ confidentially provided to him, is considered “sensitive but unclassified” by the US government, meaning that while it poses no risk to national security, federal officials, like Wyden, are forbidden from disclosing it to the public, according to the senator’s letter.

Dell Cameron, Dhruv Mehrotra from Wired

To me, this is hardly a stunning revelation. You always had to know this sort of thing was happening somewhere deep in the bowels of the US Government. The rub is that it was finally made public.