Shining New Light on Hemisphere, AT&T’s Super-Secret, For-Profit Surveillance Unit

It was described, when first exposed in 2013, as a “partnership” between AT&T and the US government—an “essential” counter-narcotics tool, according to the Justice Department. But new documents reveal that Hemisphere is more like a product, built by AT&T for profit and at the expense of taxpayers.

Quoth The Daily Beast, which first uncovered this new information:

Hemisphere is a secretive program run by AT&T that searches trillions of call records and analyzes cellular data to determine where a target is located, with whom he speaks, and potentially why. . No warrant is required to make use of the company’s massive trove of data, according to AT&T documents, only a promise from law enforcement to not disclose Hemisphere if an investigation using it becomes public.

Hemisphere dates back to 2003, documents show, and is deployed in intelligence centers across America. But those involved have their lips sealed, and the contracts governments must sign are beyond ironclad. The enterprise charges police departments up to $1 million per year for access.

“It’s very troubling and not the way law enforcement should work in this country,” Adam Schwartz, staff attorney for activist group Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The Daily Beast.

The news comes as AT&T agreed to acquire Time Warner, an historic transaction that is itself controversial.

AT&T to Acquire Time Warner in Historic $85 Billion Transaction