Millions of Americans Subject to Secret Phone Spying

Recently, WIRED revealed a shocking report on a little-known surveillance program operated by AT&T, one of the largest telecom companies in the U.S. The program, called Data Analytical Services (DAS), has been secretly collecting and analyzing over a trillion domestic phone records each year, taking note of who their customers are talking to, when, where, and for how long.

The DAS program, formerly known as Hemisphere, operates through a technique known as chain analysis, which not only targets those in direct communication with a suspect, but also anyone those individuals have been in contact with. This means that even innocent individuals with no connection to any crime can have their phone records swept up and scrutinized by law enforcement agencies.

What’s even more concerning is that the program operates without any judicial oversight or public accountability, raising serious concerns about privacy and civil liberties. This goes against the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Moreover, the DAS program directly contradicts the reforms made by the USA Freedom Act of 2015, which required the National Security Agency (NSA) to stop collecting phone records in bulk and instead request them from phone companies with a court order on a case-by-case basis. The DAS program bypasses this requirement by allowing AT&T to collect and store the records for law enforcement purposes.

The program has been in operation for over a decade and has received millions of dollars in funding from the White House. Under the program, law enforcement agencies can access the records of any calls that use AT&T’s infrastructure, covering a large portion of the country. This includes phone numbers, dates, times, durations, locations, and even the names and addresses of subscribers.

The legality and usefulness of the program have been questioned by lawmakers and activists, with Senator Ron Wyden, a vocal critic of mass surveillance, calling for an investigation into its operations. The Department of Justice has acknowledged an inquiry on the matter from WIRED but has yet to provide a statement.

AT&T claims to be complying with the law, stating that they are required to provide information when presented with a lawful subpoena. However, there is no law requiring them to store decades worth of Americans’ call records for law enforcement purposes. The company has also been training law enforcement on how to use the DAS program.

The DAS program has faced legal challenges and public records requests, but it has been able to evade or resist these efforts by claiming that the phone records are owned by AT&T, not the government. The company also argues that the program is protected by trade secrets and law enforcement privileges.

In light of these revelations, individuals may consider using encryption or alternative communication methods to protect themselves from phone surveillance. However, these methods may not be foolproof and can have their own limitations and risks. The Department of Justice should thoroughly investigate the DAS program and inform the public about its scope and outcome to address privacy concerns and ensure accountability.

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