A leaked collection of 70 million prison phone calls suggests a fundamental legal principle is being violated in the US

An anonymous hacker has released records of 70 million phone calls by inmates in US jails to the press — and it suggests that attorney-client privilege has been routinely violated on a huge scale.

On Wednesday, The Intercept’s Jordan Smith and Micah Lee published a story saying that they have been furnished with tens of millions of call records, along with links to download the content of the calls themselves. The data apparently comes from Securus Technologies, a company that provides tech to US prisons.

Significantly, at least 14,000 of the calls included in the cache are between prisoners and their lawyers. This is, The Intercept says, “a strong indication that at least some of the recordings are likely confidential and privileged legal communications — calls that never should have been recorded in the first place.”

In fact, the actual number of calls with attorneys may well be even higher, because the 14,000 number was reached by crosschecking the hacked data with the known landline numbers of lawyers only — not accounting for mobile phones.

Business Insider has reached out to Securus for comment and will update this story when it responds.

The point of attorney-client privilege is that it gives people a safe space to discuss their case with their lawyers. It’s hard to formulate a strong legal strategy if the state (or private companies) could be listening in to exactly what you’re saying, so in the interests of justice it is generally protected from such prying.

Yes, Securus does warn you at the start of a call in a pre-recorded message that “this call is from a correctional facility and may be monitored and recorded.” But in states like Missouri and Texas, there have been undertakings by Securus not to record attorney-client or “privileged” calls, or to delete them as soon as they take place. The Intercept says that its data trove includes call records and recordings from those states — showing this hasn’t happened.

Securus Technologies is a for-profit company that supplies communications technologies to prisons — like phones — and then takes a cut of the cost. It, and companies like it, have been criticised for the high costs it charges — according to International Business Times, at one facility it costs $US10 (£6.59) for a phone call or $US8 (£5.27) for a video chat.

In October 2015, the FCC took action, slashing the cost of calls to just $US0.22 (£0.14) a minute (or less).

The Intercept does not provide any details on its source, apart from that they are a hacker who hacked access to the records (presumably as opposed to an internal whistleblower at Securus). The source apparently took action because they believe “that Securus is violating the constitutional rights of inmates.” The fact a hacker was able to gain access to this kind of data also raises questions about the company’s security practices.

David Fathi, the director of civil liberties group the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said that Securus’ actions “may be the most massive breach of the attorney-client privilege in modern U.S. history, and that’s certainly something to be concerned about … A lot of prisoner rights are limited because of their conviction and incarceration, but their protection by the attorney-client privilege is not.”

NOW WATCH: A nuclear engineer is solving virtual reality’s biggest problem

NOW WATCH: Tech Insider videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.