Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon has raised serious concerns about the legality of a surveillance program, “Data Analytical Services, ” operated by the Biden White House. In a letter addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Wyden expressed his worries about the program’s extensive tracking and analysis of Americans’ phone records, even when they are not suspected of criminal activity.
The program, originally called Hemisphere, has been in operation for more than ten years and allows law enforcement agencies at all levels of government to access and mine the details of individuals’ calls. Using chain analysis, the program targets not only those directly involved with criminal suspects but also anyone who has had contact with those individuals.
According to Wired, the White House has provided over $6 million in funding for the program, which enables targeting phone records that utilize AT&T’s infrastructure. AT&T, in coordination with the government, grants access to its extensive database for law enforcement purposes. While phone service providers typically retain records for two years, AT&T appears to keep them for much longer, possibly up to a decade or more.
Senator Wyden, who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, posted his letter to Garland on his website, urging the attorney general to release additional information about the Hemisphere Project. Wyden describes the program as a long-running surveillance effort in which AT&T is paid by the White House to provide law enforcement agencies with the ability to conduct warrantless searches of domestic phone records, amounting to trillions of queries.
The scale of data available and routinely searched under the Hemisphere Project is extensive, with one law enforcement official likening it to “AT&T’s Super Search Engine” and “Google on Steroids.” Wyden highlights that the program was initially funded by the Obama administration from 2009 to 2013 before continuing under a new name, “Data Analytical Services,” with other federal funding. The Trump administration resumed White House funding in 2017, and although it was temporarily paused under President Biden in 2021, it quietly resumed in 2022.
Wyden also raises concerns about the program’s funding mechanism, explaining that while it is paid for with federal funds, it bypasses the mandatory federal privacy review by being delivered to AT&T through an obscure grant program.
The revelations surrounding the Data Analytical Services program have sparked widespread concern about the potential violation of privacy rights and the extent of government surveillance. As the debate continues, Senator Wyden’s call for transparency and further information about the program remains unanswered.