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A report in The New York Times says that a secretive program, using subpoenas, run by federal and local drug enforcement officials in conjunction with telecom operator AT&T, collects more data on phone calls made by Americans than the National Security Agency.
Through an effort called the Hemisphere Project, the Times reported, the U.S. 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."
The report said that the amount of data collected and stored by the Hemisphere Project eclipses other government-run programs, including the NSA's data-collection program exposed by leaker Edward Snowden.
The allegation is based on an unclassified PowerPoint presentation obtained by the Times from Drew Hendricks, a peace activist from Port Hadock, Wash. The program began in 2007, the report said. Hendricks could not immediately be contacted for comment, but federal officials confirmed the authenticity of the presentation to the Times.
"Hemisphere covers every call that passes through an AT&T switch — not just those made by AT&T customers — and includes calls dating back 26 years, according to Hemisphere training slides bearing the logo of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, " the Times reported. The NSA stores data for five years. Four billion call records are allegedly added to the Hemisphere database on a daily basis. The data include specific information about caller locations, which is not the case for NSA data.
Justice Department spokesman Brian Fallon told the Times that "subpoenaing drug dealers' phone records is a bread-and-butter tactic in the course of criminal investigations." AT&T spokesman Mark A. Siegel, in an email, told the Times: "While we cannot comment on any particular matter, we, like all other companies, must respond to valid subpoenas issued by law enforcement."