Finding the perfect balance between personal privacy and national security is a difficult task. The U.S. government has allegedly been secretly spying on its citizens for years in an effort to prevent terrorist attacks. One example is when we recently told you about Yahoo's massive NSA hidden email scan.
We've learned about another spying program with some shady details. One of the largest telecommunications companies is allegedly profiting from it.
AT&T has a secret program called Project Hemisphere that searches through trillions of phone call records. It then analyzes cell data to find where the person making the call is located, along with the person on the other end of the call's location and possibly details of the call.
When Hemisphere was reported by The New York Times in 2013, it was labeled as a partnership between AT&T and the U.S. government. At the time, Justice Department officials claimed the program was essential as a counter-narcotics tool.
However, Hemisphere was used for much more than the war on drugs. It was reportedly also used to investigate everything from Medicaid fraud to homicides.
"The Daily Beast" says Hemisphere isn't a partnership, instead it is a product that was developed by AT&T. It was then sold to the U.S. government for millions of taxpayer dollars.
AT&T's own documents say that no warrant is needed to access Hemisphere's data. Law enforcement's only requirement in using the data is to not disclose Hemisphere in a publicized investigation.
All telecommunications companies are obligated by law to hand over these types of records from its database. What sets AT&T apart from other companies is the amount of records it has.
AT&T owns over 75 percent of U.S. landline switches and has the second largest share of cell towers and wireless infrastructure. It keeps cell tower data going all the way back to 2008. Whereas Verizon only keeps those records for one year and Sprint keeps them for 18 months.
AT&T keeps details of every phone call, text, or other communication that has been made on its infrastructure dating back to the late 1980s. The New York Times says this database has trillions of records and is larger than any phone record database collected by the NSA under the Patriot Act. AT&T is allegedly being paid as much as $1 million a year by different police departments for access to Hemisphere.
The telecom giant is denying that they have a special database. An AT&T spokesperson told "The Daily Beast" that it's required by law to provide non-content information, like phone numbers and dates and times when the government requests it.
All of this comes on the heels of AT&T's attempt to get government approval to acquire Time Warner. We recently told you about the deal worth over $85 billion dollars.
To see if this information will affect AT&T's deal to acquire Time Warner, please keep checking back on our Happening Now page for updates.