Senator Challenges Legality of Secretive White House Phone Surveillance Program

A recently revealed surveillance program, known as Data Analytical Services (DAS), is under scrutiny as US Senator Ron Wyden questions its legality in a letter addressed to the Department of Justice (DOJ). According to information obtained by WIRED, the DAS program, formerly known as Hemisphere, has been operational for over a decade, allowing law enforcement agencies at federal, state, and local levels to analyze more than a trillion domestic phone records annually.

Operated in collaboration with telecom giant AT&T, the DAS program employs chain analysis, targeting not only individuals in direct contact with criminal suspects but also anyone connected to these individuals. AT&T, utilizing its extensive infrastructure across the United States, captures and analyzes call records for various law enforcement agencies, with the White House reportedly allocating over $6 million to support the program.

Senator Wyden, expressing “serious concerns about the legality” of DAS, highlights troubling information received from the DOJ, deemed “sensitive but unclassified.” This information, while posing no national security risk, is restricted from public disclosure. In a letter to US Attorney General Merrick Garland, Wyden emphasizes the potential outrage such revelations might generate among Americans and Congress members.

AT&T spokesperson Kim Hart Jonson declined to comment on the DAS program, stating the company’s obligation to comply with lawful subpoenas. Notably, there is no legal requirement for AT&T to retain decades’ worth of Americans’ call records for law enforcement purposes. Documents reveal AT&T’s participation in law enforcement conferences to train officials on utilizing the company’s voluntary assistance.

A review of law enforcement data, previously leaked by the transparency collective Distributed Denial of Secrets, exposes extensive monitoring practices. While DAS is nominally focused on drug trafficking, documents reveal requests for data unrelated to drugs, including unsolved cases. Examples include officers seeking a “Hemisphere analysis” to identify a suspect’s phone number by analyzing calls from close friends and requests to identify victims and material witnesses in unrelated cases.

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