Much has been written about in recent months regarding the United States government breaching the public’s right to privacy. The Patriot Act, which was enacted in the wake of September 11th, has received mixed criticism and support since 2001. Privacy rights activists argue that this act was an abuse of government power into the lives of U.S. citizens.
Privacy rights activists have a new reason for concern. As reported in a recent New York Times article, a program just came to light that far exceeds the scope of any previous government anti-terrorism program-“Hemisphere”. (See www.nytimes.com/2013/09/02/us/drug-agents-use-vast-phone-trove-eclipsing-nsas.html) Hemisphere was ran as a highly secret government program which was started in 2007. This program is raising a few major concerns: 1) the collaborations between government and private telecommunication industries, 2) the sheer volume of data that is being collected and stored on private citizens and 3) N.S.A. is not the only government agency tracking data, but this secret program, which short cuts the court system, tracks data of US citizens on US soil.
Not to be outdone by the N.S.A., Hemisphere enables the D.E.A. to collaborate with and pay AT&T employees to help solve otherwise difficult cases. This program enables AT&T employees to work directly with drug enforcement agencies across the country. This allows the D.E.A. to track private citizens activities in hopes to catch people in any number of illegal activities-not just drug cases.
But even more surprising is the scope of data that is being collected. AT&T stores every phone call made as far back as 1987. To compare this with other programs, the N.S.A., which has received a lot of criticism, only stores data from telephone calls for five years. But in Hemisphere, the government then uses administrative subpoenas to gather data that AT&T stored; which can include any phone number, length and date of the phone call, and also surprisingly the location the call was actually made from.
The ability to collect data of this type from private citizens is unheard of before Hemisphere and certainly raises privacy concerns. The 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the rights of private citizens from illegal searches and seizures. The government has to demonstrate that the individual did not have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in order to conduct any search without a warrant.
The question is whether it is reasonable to believe that cell phone calls are private, including: who they call, when they call, and where they are at when they make a call. I would venture to say that most would believe this is private and would not expect the government to be able to track all this information going back to 1987. But until this issue is brought forward to the courts, the Government will continue to track all phone calls made by private citizens.
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