AT&T’s “Secret” Hemisphere program became not-so-secret a few years back. In 2013, the New York Times touted the venture as a private-public partnership essential to fighting the Drug War. (Did we win yet??)
Hemisphere, reportedly in use use since 2007, also had analog parents dating back to 1987. In those days, AT&T assisted the D.E.A. with certain investigations into the drug trade in American cities. To be clear, we’re talking about the traffic of drugs from South and Central Americas that the Reagan Administration DEFINITELY knew nothing about.
But since it was all about fighting the good fight against the bad drugs, no one clucked too loudly about this partnership whereby one of our greatest Corporate Persons helped snag low level drug dealers by providing governments with phone records and such. A great American endeavor indeed. But according to a recent report by the Daily Beast, Hemisphere isn’t a partnership at all. It’s an AT&T-developed service that sells its customers’ data to governments at all levels for millions of dollars. It’s quite All-American in its lack of altruism. What’s not American — some pinkos would say — is the way the relationship allows the party to get around pesky warrant requirements. The scope of the program is enough to make the NSA green with envy, although the agency won’t confirm or deny what color of envy it actually is:
Hemisphere is a secretive program run by AT&T that searches trillions of call records and analyzes cellular data to determine where a target is located, with whom he speaks, and potentially why[…]
No warrant is required to make use of the company’s massive trove of data, according to AT&T documents, only a promise from law enforcement to not disclose Hemisphere if an investigation using it becomes public.
And if you know anything about American History, it’s that a promise made is a promise kept. Now, before you get all indignant about the program’s secretive nature, think of it as the government FINALLY protecting a confidential informant, something we’ve decided isn’t worth the money when it comes to community witnesses of inner-city homicides.
To be clear, telecom Corporate People do have to turn over certain information pertaining to criminal investigations. However, AT&T relishes its duty. It’s like a Minuteman of data-mining, going above and beyond to dig into the deep dark abyss of its customers’ histories. The amount of stored records is believed to be bigger than any database collected by the NSA under the Patriot Act. Go big or go home (fyi, your home phone is bugged). As for the investigations, they’re no longer limited to the drug trade. From Medicare fraud to counterfeit jeans production, law enforcement uses the service for just about anything.
The article notes that “At no point does law enforcement directly access AT&T’s data,” if that makes you feel any better. And by merely providing “leads” to law enforcement, the program can remain relatively secretive, although it makes criminal investigations shady as hell. The indirect relationship allows law enforcement to reverse engineer investigations in an attempt to pay passive homage to pesky Constitutional requirements. But it’s quite possible that a person charged with a crime never really knows where law enforcement got its lead from.
On top of this, the Federal government has a grant system that reimburses local governments for Hemisphere expenses. So they might as well buy all the Hemisphere they can!
Harris County, Texas, home to Houston, made its inaugural payment to AT&T of $77,924 in 2007, according to a contract reviewed by The Daily Beast. Four years later, the county’s Hemisphere bill had increased more than tenfold to $940,000.
Some lawyers and privacy advocates have nothing better to do than complain about “constitutional protections” and the “dissemination of private information of innocent customers” and “the 4th Amendment” and “warrants” and blah blah blah give it a rest already, we’re in like 17 wars.
In the end, we’re quite certain trusted men and women at the top of law enforcement, beholden to the scales of justice, will see fit to publicize the scope of the program so that all AT&T customers are aware of the “services” being provided.
In 2014 Cameron County, Texas, Judge Carlos Casco ordered a line item in the commission minutes changed from “Hemisphere Program” to “database analysis services.” Casco is now the secretary of State of Texas.
*Throws phone in river*
Terrible Drug Dealer hooked a lot of people on awful drugs with totally legal marketing magic
As we lie within a fortnight of Election-O-Rama 2016, it is worth remembering that angry racist voters are the only terrible ones among us. Our Corporate Persons are often not only terrible, they’re terrifying.
Purdue Pharma is a pretty deplorable company that has done a lot of damage in TrumpLandia. At the dawn of the opioid epidemic, the state of West Virginia noticed a disturbing trend correlating to the proliferation of a newfangled and lightly-regulated painkiller called OxyContin. That trend was “death by overdose.”
Evil government bureaucrats waved their arms and sounded the alarm about increasingly doped-up West Virginians. They demanded that Oxy require preauthorization for the state employee health plan. Preauthorization is where an insurance company approves the doctor’s prescription, somewhat limiting Oxy to the people that really need the drug (say, terminal cancer patients). It also limits amount of time it can be prescribed for.
While Purdue Pharma pretended to want drug abuse curtailed, in reality no drug dealer wants their customers to quit — unless it’s a high maintenance customer always pounding on the window while he’s trying to watch Charlie Rose.
Purdue used Merck Medco, a pharmacy benefits manager, to keep the OxyContin flowing. Virginia is for lovers, and with the highest overdose rate in the country, the Other Virginia is for lovers of dangerous drugs You Should Not Do, kids.
For its part, Merck Mercado sold its soul for Oxy rebates — money paid by Purdue to benefits managers who made the Oxy rain with no prior authorization and low copays. And what do ya know, everyone comes pretty cheap when you’re buying them off at the expense of anonymous patients.
OxyContin prescriptions written for plan members skyrocketed; spending on the drug went from $11,000 in 1996, the first full year it was on the market, to $2 million in 2002. Purdue, aided at the time by its marketing partner Abbott Laboratories, aggressively marketed OxyContin to doctors with the claim, later shown to be false, that the risk of addiction was low. STAT reported last month that the unsealed West Virginia court records showed that an Abbott sales rep won over an orthopedic surgeon with a box of doughnuts and snack cakes arranged to spell OxyContin.
First, do no harm. But before that, allow cleverly arranged baked goods to compromise your professional integrity.
Documents related to a settled lawsuit brought by the state against Purdue reflect a merciless mercenary of medication:
The court documents make clear that blocking any limits on OxyContin prescribing was a top priority for Purdue. In a memo listing the 2001 goals of Purdue’s West Virginia sales team, the first listed item under Medicaid is “Stop any preauthorization efforts for OxyContin.” In a separate memo, Purdue officials reported meeting with a state official to “interrupt” any efforts to require prior authorization of OxyContin.
If a corporate person or scruffy dude behind a movie theater offers you an opioid for what ails you — boredom included — remember that though 2016 is terrible, it ain’t worth it.