The Hemisphere Project has been described as a partnership between local and federal drug officials and U.S. telecom giant AT&T, they’re said to have an “extremely close association.” The New York Times reports that this project was started back in 2007 and has been carried out in great secrecy. Drug Enforcement Administration agents reportedly have access to decades worth of phone call records from AT&T’s enormous database, records are said to go as far back as 1987. The records contain logs of every call that passes through an AT&T switch, it is irrelevant if the call was made by an AT&T subscriber or not.
According to the report, the government “pays AT&T to place its employees in drug-fighting units” in the U.S. These employees work alongside DEA agents as well as detectives from local drug enforcement agencies, their job is to supply them with phone data. The data is said to include location of callers as well. AT&T stores all of the phone records, not the government. When it needs access, the government uses an “administrative subpoena” which is issued by a federal agency, the DEA in this particular case. The report claims that the “scale and longevity” of this program appears to be “unmatched” by other programs that are being run by the government, particularly the National Security Agency. As per the documents obtained by the Times, among other achievements, the Hemisphere program has helped track a ring of drug dealers in 2011 who rotated between prepaid phones, the bust lead to 136 kilos of cocaine and $2.2 million being seized from their possession.