In a recent development, Senator Ron Wyden has voiced concerns over a White House program, raising questions about its legality and demanding more transparency.
Senator Wyden is questioning the legality of a White House program known as Data Analytical Services (DAS) that allows law enforcement to access Americans' phone records without warrants.
The DAS program, formerly called Hemisphere, has been operating since 2009. It has cost taxpayers over $5 million, money paid to AT&T for providing Americans' phone records to law enforcement, often without a warrant.
This program gives law enforcement the power to access and analyze the phone records of American citizens, irrespective of their involvement in criminal activities. This has led to widespread concern over potential misuse of the program and the infringement of citizens' privacy rights.
Documents leaked to the media have shown that local police forces have utilized the DAS program for cases not related to drug control, contrary to the program's funding source - the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The Justice Department responded to Senator Wyden's concerns in 2019 by providing pages of information regarding DAS. Now, the Senator is seeking to make this information available to the public in the interest of transparency.
The DAS program has managed to evade the usual privacy evaluations. This is possible due to the program's obscure funding source: grants from the White House rather than direct funding from a federal agency.
In November 2023, Senator Wyden expressed his intention to vote against the reauthorization of FISA Section 702 without reforms. His concerns have culminated in a public letter, published on November 20, questioning the legality of DAS and demanding transparency.
Senator Wyden wrote:
"This surveillance program is not classified. The public interest in an informed debate about government surveillance far outweighs the need to keep this information secret. This is a long-running dragnet surveillance program in which the White House pays AT&T to provide all federal, state, local, and Tribal law enforcement agencies the ability to request often-warrantless searches of trillions of domestic phone records."
In response to Senator Wyden's letter, a spokesperson for AT&T directed inquiries to the Justice Department. The spokesperson emphasized that, as with all companies, AT&T is legally required to comply with subpoenas, warrants, and court orders issued by government and law enforcement agencies.
The spokesperson further clarified that any information referred to in Senator Wyden's letter would have been produced under legal compulsion, either by a subpoena, warrant, or court order.
In light of these developments, the public waits for the Justice Department's next move as the debate over the DAS program and its implications for privacy continues to unfold.