Spying on You For Fun, But Mostly For Profit

We often tell you about web sites that use your data and sometimes in ways that you don’t expect, but usually it is to sell it to advertisers.

However, apparently, AT&T has created a new revenue stream.

AT&T calls the program Project Hemisphere.

Hemisphere is a program which allows law enforcement to search AT&T call records – not because of a warrant – but for a fee.

Harris County, home of Houston, paid AT&T $77,000 in 2007 and $940,000 four years later.  Sounds a bit like a drug dealer.  Get the addict hooked and then jack up the price by a factor of ten.

There are around 4,000 counties in the U.S. plus probably ten times that many cities, not to mention state governments.  If every one of them paid AT&T a million dollars a year – which of course they are not – that is a lot of money.

How much money?  We have no idea because AT&T isn’t telling.

Normally companies share data with law enforcement when they are legally compelled to.

In this case, AT&T has turned it into a product line and profit center.  And since law enforcement is buying a service from AT&T, they don’t have to worry about convincing a judge that there is probable cause in order to get a search warrant.   An administrative subpoena is just fine.

While AT&T would be required to comply with an administrative subpoena, they are not required to develop software to slice and dice the data and provide that information.

In case you were wondering whether AT&T thought this product offering was sleazy, they did.  AT&T required that the government agencies to agree to not use the data in any judicial or even administrative proceeding unless there is no other available and admissible probative evidence.  In other words, if it got out that AT&T was analyzing and aggregating data and then selling it to the government, customers might leave.

In support of this service, AT&T has retained cell phone data back to 2008 or 8 years.  By comparison, Verizon keeps their data for a year and Sprint keeps theirs for 18 months.

AT&T saves call data, text message data, Skype chat data, and other communications, in some cases back to 1987 – almost 30 years.

That seems like a bit more than what is “required”.

Now that this is out, people may start voting with their checkbooks.

Information for this post came from The Daily Beast.

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