U.S. drug agents grab more data than NSA; ‘profound privacy concerns,’ ACLU says

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When it comes to subpoenaing telephone records, U.S. drug agents may take the trophy from the National Security Agency.

New information revealed by The New York Times on a counterdrug program called The Hemisphere Project shows the federal government has been paying the telecommunications company, AT&T, to task workers on missions for the Drug Enforcement Agency and for detectives who work at local law enforcement levels. The phone workers’ job: to give law enforcement telephone records and related data that dates back to 1987.

The NSA, meanwhile, only stores telephone data for five years. And that data is confined to the telephone numbers, the time of call and the duration of call, Fox News reported.

The Hemisphere Project sweeps in every call that travels through an AT&T switch point — not just every call placed by an AT&T customer. The program falls under the purview of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, The Times said.

The Obama administration said not to worry — that the telephone data is stored only by AT&T, not the government, Fox News said. The government can only access the information via “administrative subpoenas” from the DEA, the White House said.

American Civil Liberties Union, meanwhile, is outraged.

The Hemisphere Project raises “profound privacy concerns,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy director of the ACLU.

“I’d speculate that one reason for the secrecy of the program is that it would be very hard to justify it to the public or the courts,” he said, Fox News reported.

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