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September 3, 2013

The Hemisphere program

Another surveillance slide deck has emerged, as reported by the New York Times and other media outlets. This one is for the Hemisphere program, which apparently:

Other notes include:

I’ve never gotten a single consistent figure, but typical CDR size seems to be in the 100s of bytes range. So I conjecture that Project Hemisphere spawned one of the first petabyte-scale databases ever.

Hemisphere Project unknowns start:?

It seems that a primary use case for Project Hemisphere is to guess what phone numbers baddies are using, especially those of disposable “burner” cell phones that are otherwise very hard to trace. (The key benefit mentioned to such analysis is that those new phones can then be tapped.) There aren’t many details as to how the phone numbers are inferred, but since almost nothing is initially known about the target phone numbers except calling patterns, those are surely a huge part of the puzzle. In particular, it doesn’t seem to have been disclosed which other databases, if any, are linked into the analysis. There is no hint in the deck that the Hemisphere program directly collects telephone call contents. Rather, it’s used to help determine which telephone numbers to tap.

The government apparently trains its people to keep Hemisphere secret, to the point of lying about it, even though Slide 2 states that Hemisphere is “an unclassified program”.

So it seems as if Hemisphere is yet another example of the pattern:

Up to a point, this is reassuring. But it still bodes badly for a future in which there are many more ways surveillance can be used to hurt us than were possible before.

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