NYT: government has access to phone records back to 1987

In a blockbuster new report, the New York Times reveals that for years AT&T has willingly enlisted as a partner with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to hand over on request data on all calls that go through AT&T switches (which includes some calls not placed by or to its own customers). Included is data on the location of cellphone users, which goes beyond what the government has been known to have at its fingertips through routine-access, unresisted “administrative subpoenas” not disclosed to the surveillance target. More: Guardian, Daily Dot, Business Insider; James Joyner on warrant-dodging “administrative subpoenas”.

Buried at the end of the Times story is that although this extraordinarily intrusive snooping apparatus is rationalized as a Drug War measure, they use it against ordinary crime too:

The PowerPoint slides outline several “success stories” highlighting the program’s achievements and showing that it is used in investigating a range of crimes, not just drug violations. The slides emphasize the program’s value in tracing suspects who use replacement phones, sometimes called “burner” phones, who switch phone numbers or who are otherwise difficult to locate or identify.

In March 2013, for instance, Hemisphere found the new phone number and location of a man who impersonated a general at a San Diego Navy base and then ran over a Navy intelligence agent. A month earlier the program helped catch a South Carolina woman who had made a series of bomb threats.

Not really unrelatedly, it develops that analysts’ practice of using NSA surveillance to spy on their romantic interests — a practice common enough to have its own nickname, “LOVEINT” — comes to light mostly when voluntarily self-disclosed, not because some other safeguards are succeeding in catching it [Business Insider]

P.S. A couple of reactions on Twitter: “Old AT&T slogan was ‘Your world. Delivered’. More accurate to have said ‘Your world. Delivered straight to the DEA.'” [Catherine Crump] “I can’t seem to find the bit in AT&T’s privacy policy where they reveal they have been sharing 26 years worth of call data with the DEA.” [Christopher Sogloian] More: Matt Welch, Scott Greenfield.

One Comment

  • “One situation in which self-reported abuses arise is when an employee takes a polygraph test as part of a renewal of a security clearance.)”

    Disclosure during or just before a poly interview is not really “voluntary.”