I often have conversations with my friends about the likelihood that the government is spying on our phone records and activities. I have always envisioned a fed in a cubicle somewhere looking at ‘chatter,’ finding conversations that are very common between marijuana consuming friends. It would go something like
Guy 1 – ‘Dude, I have the bomb.’
Guy 2 – ‘Really, is it killer?’
Guy 1 – ‘Yeah man, this is the straight death.’
I picture the guy in the cubicle shaking his head as conversations via text like this are going on nationwide on an hourly basis. At the very least he shakes his head at his computer screen, but at the very most he passes along the information to various levels of law enforcement who use the information as they see fit. It turns out that not only does the government spy on marijuana consumers’ phone calls and records, but they get the help from at least one major cellular provider – AT&T. The New York Times was the first to report, but it is being picked up by just about every media outlet now.
According to what I have been reading, the spying goes back decades, and that the DEA’s database of information collected is even larger than the NSA’s phone database. The NSA spying revelations caused a ton of controversy which is continuing today. Since the DEA’s spying activities seem to be even larger in size, I wonder if we will see an even larger out-crying from the general public. I hope so.
According to the New York Times:
“The Hemisphere Project, a partnership between federal and local drug officials and AT&T that has not previously been reported, involves an extremely close association between the government and the telecommunications giant.”
“The government pays AT&T to place its employees in drug-fighting units around the country. Those employees sit alongside Drug Enforcement Administration agents and local detectives and supply them with the phone data from as far back as 1987.”
According to NBC:
“Officials told NBC News that the database lets them establish call patterns by finding links between these anonymous and short-lived numbers and networks of other phone numbers. Having the AT&T employees on-hand to receive the subpoenas, they said, makes for quicker turnaround. Most of the subpoenas are “administrative subpoenas,” meaning they are issued by a federal agency, generally the DEA, rather than a grand jury or a judge.”
According to UPI:
“The Obama administration confirmed the scale of the Hemisphere Project and the embedding of AT&T employees in government drug units in three states. Administration officials said the project uses investigative procedures used in criminal cases and wasn’t a threat to privacy.”
“Justice Department spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement that ‘subpoenaing drug dealers’ phone records is a bread-and-butter tactic in the course of criminal investigations.'”