NSA Wants to Expand Phone Database — Because of Privacy Suits

The government says it needs to keep the phone data as evidence.

Cars sit at the security entrance of the new NSA Data Center on October 8, 2013 in Bluffdale, Utah. It has been reported that the data center has been plagued by power surges that have destroyed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment and has delayed the opening of the center for a year.
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
Feb. 26, 2014, 11:54 a.m.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion asked a fed­er­al sur­veil­lance court on Wed­nes­day for per­mis­sion to hold mil­lions of phone re­cords longer than the cur­rent five-year lim­it.

The Justice De­part­ment ar­gued that data needs to be main­tained as evid­ence for the slew of pri­vacy law­suits filed in the wake of the Ed­ward Snowden’s leaks about Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency sur­veil­lance. The Amer­ic­an Civil Liber­ties Uni­on, the Elec­tron­ic Fron­ti­er Found­a­tion, and oth­er groups are su­ing to shut the pro­gram down, claim­ing it vi­ol­ates the con­sti­tu­tion­al rights of mil­lions of Amer­ic­ans.

The For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court reg­u­larly gives the NSA per­mis­sion to col­lect re­cords in bulk from phone com­pan­ies but re­quires that the agency des­troy the re­cords after five years. The re­cords in­clude phone num­bers, call times, and call dur­a­tions, but not the con­tents of any con­ver­sa­tions.

In the fil­ing with the court on Wed­nes­day, the Justice De­part­ment said the gov­ern­ment has a “duty to pre­serve” the phone re­cords that over­rides oth­er ob­lig­a­tions. The gov­ern­ment said it would pre­serve the data in a format that pre­vents NSA ana­lysts from ac­cess­ing it.

“The United States must en­sure that all po­ten­tially rel­ev­ant evid­ence is re­tained,” the Justice De­part­ment wrote.

But the ACLU ex­pressed dis­may that the gov­ern­ment is us­ing its law­suit as a reas­on to hold on to private phone re­cords.

“This is just a dis­trac­tion,” Jameel Jaf­fer, the ACLU’s deputy leg­al dir­ect­or, said. “We don’t have any ob­jec­tion to the gov­ern­ment de­let­ing these re­cords. While they’re at it, they should de­lete the whole data­base.”

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