Court Rejects NSA Bid to Hold Phone Data Longer

The ruling is a rare defeat for the spy agency.

National Journal
Brendan Sasso
March 7, 2014, 11:16 a.m.

A fed­er­al sur­veil­lance court has re­jec­ted the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s bid to hold onto mil­lions of phone re­cords bey­ond the cur­rent five-year lim­it.

The rul­ing is a rare re­buke for the gov­ern­ment from the se­cret­ive For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court. The court has re­jec­ted less than 1 per­cent of gov­ern­ment spy­ing re­quests over the past 30 years.

But Judge Reg­gie Walton said he found the Justice De­part­ment’s ar­gu­ment for ex­tend­ing the re­ten­tion of phone re­cords “simply un­per­suas­ive.”

Gov­ern­ment law­yers had ar­gued that they needed to re­tain the data as evid­ence for the slew of pri­vacy law­suits filed in the wake of 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.

In a fil­ing with the court last month, 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 would pre­vent NSA ana­lysts from ac­cess­ing it.

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

But the fed­er­al judge noted that none of the pri­vacy groups have tried to force the NSA to hold onto the data for their law­suits. He wrote that the groups are seek­ing “the de­struc­tion of the [tele­phone] metadata, not its re­ten­tion.”

Walton con­cluded that there is no leg­al re­quire­ment for the NSA to re­tain the data, and that any mo­tiv­a­tion for re­tain­ing the re­cords is out­weighed by the pri­vacy harm. 

“The amended pro­ced­ures would fur­ther in­fringe on the pri­vacy in­terests of United States per­sons whose tele­phone re­cords were ac­quired in vast num­bers and re­tained by the gov­ern­ment to aid in na­tion­al se­cur­ity in­vest­ig­a­tions,” he wrote. 

The data in­cludes phone num­bers, call times, and call dur­a­tions for mil­lions of U.S. phone calls — but not the con­tents of any com­mu­nic­a­tions.  

What We're Following See More »
WORDS AND PICTURES
White House Looks Back on bin Laden Mission
3 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
NO BATTLE OVER SEATTLE
SCOTUS Won’t Hear Appeal of Minimum-Wage Law
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a sweeping constitutional challenge to Seattle’s minimum wage law, in what could have been a test case for future legal attacks on similar measures across the country. In a one-line order, the justices declined to hear a case by the International Franchise Association and a group of Seattle franchisees, which had said in court papers that the city’s gradual wage increase to $15 discriminates against them in a way that violates the Constitution’s commerce clause."

Source:
DOWN TO THE WIRE
Sanders Looks to Right the Ship in Indiana
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

Hillary Clinton may have the Democratic nomination sewn up, but Bernie Sanders apparently isn't buying it. Buoyed by a poll showing them in a "virtual tie," Sanders is "holding three rallies on the final day before the state primary and hoping to pull off a win after a tough week of election losses and campaign layoffs." 

Source:
CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION IN JUNE
DC to Release Draft Constitution as Part of Statehood Push
5 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"The New Columbia Statehood Commission—composed of five District leaders including Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, and D.C.'s congressional delegation—voted today to publicly release a draft of a new constitution for an eventual state next Friday, at the Lincoln Cottage." It's the first step in a statehood push this year that will include a constitutional convention in June and a referendum in November.

Source:
ALZHEIMER’S OUTCRY
Will Ferrell Bails on Reagan Movie
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

Amid outcry by President Reagan's children, actor Will Ferrell has pulled out of a movie that makes light of Reagan's Alzheimer's disease. A spokesperson for Ferrell said, “The ‘Reagan’ script is one of a number of scripts that had been submitted to Will Ferrell which he had considered. While it is by no means an ‘Alzheimer’s comedy’ as has been suggested, Mr. Ferrell is not pursuing this project."

Source:
×