The Drug Enforcement Administration has been working closely with AT&T to access a database of American phone calls that dwarfs the NSA's controversial data-collecting efforts, the New York Times finds. In the "Hemisphere Project," which began in 2007, AT&T employees are embedded in anti-drug units across the country and supply them with phone call records from as far back as 1987, using a gargantuan database that collects four billion new records every day. The project covers not just calls made by AT&T users, but every call that goes through an AT&T switch.
The project has been kept hush-hush, but a slideshow explaining it was obtained by a Washington state peace activist who submitted public information requests to police agencies. A Justice Department spokesman says the project "simply streamlines the process of serving the subpoena to the phone company so law enforcement can quickly keep up with drug dealers when they switch phone numbers to try to avoid detection" and stresses that the phone data is stored by the phone company, not the government. Legal experts and privacy advocates, however, says the scope of the project and the deep involvement of government agents in the process raises constitutional issues.