Senator Expresses ‘Serious Concerns’ About Secretive White House Program That Tracks Americans’ Phone Records

Senator Expresses ‘Serious Concerns’ About Secretive White House Program That Tracks Americans’ Phone Records

Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday expressing “serious concerns about the legality” of a surveillance program run out of the Biden White House called “Data Analytical Services.”

Wired, which obtained a copy of the letter, reported it indicated the DAS program “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 tech news outlet added.

“Records show that the White House has, for the past decade, 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,” the report said.

The DAS program, formerly known as Hemisphere, is run in coordination with AT&T, which grants law enforcement agencies access to its vast database.

Wired noted that phone service providers typically keep records for two years, but AT&T appears to retain records for at least 10 years and possibly decades.

In his letter to Garland, which he posted to his website on Monday, Wyden, who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, asked that the attorney general “clear for public release additional information about the Hemisphere Project.”

“This is a long-running dragnet surveillance program in which the White House pays AT&T to provide all federal, state, local, and Tribal law enforcement agencies the ability to request often-warrantless searches of trillions of domestic phone records,” he wrote.

The senator cited a 2013 New York Times story indicating AT&T had kept queries regarding its Hemispheric Project going back to 1987.

“The scale of the data available to and routinely searched for the benefit of law enforcement under the Hemisphere Project is stunning in its scope. One law enforcement official described the Hemisphere Project as ‘AT&T’s Super Search Engine’ and … ‘Google on Steroids,’ according to emails released by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) under the Freedom of Information Act,” Wyden wrote.

He recounted that then-President Barack Obama’s White House funded the Hemisphere Project from 2009 until 2013 after it was exposed in the media “but continued with other federal funding under a new generic sounding program name, ‘Data Analytical Services.'”

The senator wrote that the White House funding of the program resumed under the Trump administration in 2017 but was paused again in 2021 under President Joe Biden, only to be quietly restarted in 2022.

“Although the Hemisphere Project is paid for with federal funds, they are delivered to AT&T through an obscure grant program, enabling the program to skip an otherwise mandatory federal privacy review,” Wyden wrote.

“If the funds came directly from a federal agency, such as the DEA, Hemisphere would have been subjected to a mandatory Privacy Impact Assessment conducted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Privacy and Civil Liberties, the findings of which would be made public,” his letter said.

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Wyden told Garland that for the past year he’s urged the DOJ to release materials to the public regarding the Hemisphere Project, but the agency has designated it “Law Enforcement Sensitive.”

“I have serious concerns about the legality of this surveillance program, and the materials provided by the DOJ contain troubling information that would justifiably outrage many Americans and other members of Congress,” the senator wrote.

“While I have long defended the government’s need to protect classified sources and methods, this surveillance program is not classified and its existence has already been acknowledged by the DOJ in federal court,” he wrote. “The public interest in an informed debate about government surveillance far outweighs the need to keep this information secret.”

Wyden Letter to Garland by The Western Journal

In 2013, during the Obama administration, The Associated Press reported, “The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for the Associated Press in what the news cooperative’s top executive called a ‘massive and unprecedented intrusion’ into how news organizations gather the news.”

AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt said at the time, “There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of the Associated Press and its reporters.”

“These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know,” Pruitt said.


This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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