Proponents of digital privacy and government transparency scored a victory on Thursday as a federal judge ordered the Department of Justice to provide files related to a secret telephone spying program.
(ANALYSIS) — In 2013, The New York Times reported on the existence of a previously unknown data-mining program known as Project Hemisphere. The project was developed in secret by telecommunications giant AT&T and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) as a tool to help with “drug-enforcement task-forces.” However, there is concern about mass surveillance of innocent individuals. Hemisphere searches trillions of phone records, identifies the name and location of each and individual on the phone, and then sends the data back to the DOJ.
Now, U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James has found that the U.S. government has failed to justify their reasoning for denying Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests related to Project Hemisphere. Judge James order the DOJ to provide her with files for her own private review.
The ruling comes as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in July 2015 after the DOJ refused to release data on Hemisphere. EFF attorney Aaron Mackey told AllGov he was “very pleased with the court’s decision today and are optimistic that its review of the documents will demonstrate or show that the government’s withholdings are unjustifiable and hopefully order the release of documents that have been withheld.”
Mackey also emphasized that it has become “very clear AT&T is not only a willing participant but at the center of this mass surveillance program.”. The Justice Department claimed the files were exempted from disclosure, claiming that release may reveal confidential sources or law enforcement techniques. James was not satisfied with the DOJ arguments.
“The government argues the agency’s task should not be ‘herculean’ in providing supporting evidence for its claimed exemptions,” James wrote. “But while the government need not expose the very information contained in the withheld documents, here it does not provide the sufficient information for this Court to assess its assertion of privilege. The Court is not asking the government to make a herculean effort, merely something beyond regurgitation of the elements.”
The NY Times first reported on Project Hemisphere after they released previously unseen training slides regarding the collection of billions of call records, as well as AT&T employees embedded within operations of the Drug Enforcement Administration. According to the PowerPoint presentation the program was started in 2007 and requires officials to “never refer to Hemisphere in any official document.” The program has collected records on some phone calls dating back 26 years ago.
Project Hemisphere is yet another example of one of the many, MANY tools available to the parasitic classes in the Corporate and State arenas. It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of the number of tools, software, legal loopholes, and weapons of mass surveillance now available to the U.S. government. Will 2017 be the year that the American people stand up and reclaim privacy? Or we will witness the slow death of the concept of privacy?
Derrick Broze is an investigative journalist and liberty activist. He is the Lead Investigative Reporter for ActivistPost.com and the founder of the TheConsciousResistance.com. Follow him on Twitter. Derrick is the author of three books: The Conscious Resistance: Reflections on Anarchy and Spirituality and Finding Freedom in an Age of Confusion, Vol. 1 and Finding Freedom in an Age of Confusion, Vol. 2
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