Secret U.S. court prohibits NSA from holding phone records beyond five years

Secret U.S. court prohibits NSA from holding phone records beyond five years

Summary: The U.S. government's metadata collection program cannot store phone records for longer than five years, handing a rare victory to civil liberties advocates.

(Image: Defense. Dept./National Security Agency)

A U.S. secret surveillance court has denied a bid by the U.S. government to hold onto phone records for more than five years, handing a rare win for civil liberties and privacy advocates.

But because the motion was denied "without prejudice," the Justice Dept. is allowed to file a new motion should new evidence or facts come to light.

The U.S. government submitted a request in February to store the data, collected under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, for longer than five years. The government's argument was that it needed the records to fight off a number of civil lawsuits following the very first disclosure by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

But in a public filing, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court's (FISC) Presiding Judge Reggie Walton said the government should not be allowed to hold onto the collected metadata now the surveillance leaks have come to light.

Walton said in the ruling that the "great majority" of individuals caught up in the National Security Agency's vast surveillance dragnet "have never been the subject of investigation by the FBI," and that the civil plaintiffs have "expressed no desire to acquire the records."

He also said:

"The government's proposed amendment of the minimization procedures would allow the NSA to retail call detail records that were acquired more than five years ago and that would otherwise be destroyed.

Given the scope of the production under the Court's orders, the number of records is likely voluminous and they undoubtedly contain U.S. person information, including information concerning U.S. persons who are not the subject of an FBI investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities."

In one of the civil lawsuits, Klayman v. Obama, the judge said the NSA's surveillance programs were likely unconstitutional.

According to earlier reports, the surveillance court judges have rejected less than half of 1 percent of all requests made by the U.S. government. 

You can read the full FISC ruling below.

Topics: Security, Government US

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  • Still outrageous that they are collecting this stuff in the first place

    They should have to get specific warrants for specific people, not just cast a wide-dragnet on everything.
  • Hmm, but...

    legally they cannot keep European metadata longer than 6 weeks without anonymizing it...
    • Is there a treaty?

      Remembering that the US Government isn't subject to EU law.
      John L. Ries
      • I believe there is...

        I would think it would come under the "safe harbor" provisions.
  • How Convienient, By Design of Course

    Five whole years, huh?
    This in 2014 no less!
    Let us see.
    2014 minus 5 equals 2009. Oh! And since it is now past January, that totally removes any and all kept phone logs coming to and from the Bushies and Wall Street and between Wall Streeters --intrally-- and extrally to corporates. And between the Bushies and the corporates. So, it looks like all those phone calls that were between all those responsible for the First 21st Century Depression will go the way of all elitist-revealing information, into the ash heap of utter, eternal secrecy.

    Oh, and cover-up?

    Mission Accomplished!

    • How Convienient, By YOUR Design of Course!

      Isn't it odd that no mention of yours included the fact that The Subprime (Democrat) Mortgage Disaster was the snowball leading up to this latest financial fiasco. Also included in the mix is that the last two years of the Bush Presidency, Congress was Democrat controlled. If/when you "give out information", just try not to allow your "Information" to be Disinformation, or is that part of your "Progressive" Agenda?
    • Didn't your parents ever teach you to never make a fool of yourself

      in public?

      Keep this bit of wisdom in your mind for future reference, which can keep you out of mindlessly making a fool of yourself:

      "Better to Remain Silent and Be Thought a Fool than to Speak and Remove All Doubt"
  • Interesting

    Considered a win for privacy and Civil Rights advocates? I suppose, considering the alternative (forever). Still, I wonder what threshold must be achieved before the 4th Amendment applies. I was taught, and trained by the US Navy, that no law, no matter how written, trumps the Constitution. I guess this is the Constitutional New Math.
    Brian J. Bartlett
    • Best comment so far...

  • Methinks that Obama and the NSA pulled a fast one on the court and Klayman

    and they ended up winning the argument.

    The NSA and Obama come in arguing for keeping the records forever, or a lot more than 5 years, while their original intentions were for no more than 5 years, so, with simple compromise, the defendants and plaintiffs end up with the 5 years, which gives the NSA and Obama a win.

    After 5 years, collected data that hadn't yielded any evidence of wrongdoing, would be materially worthless anyway, so, Obama and the NSA ended up losing nothing at all.

    The real battle could come if somebody challenges the NSA and Obama on violations of the 4th amendment rights that all Americans are guaranteed.
  • FISA Courts decisions do not regulate shared NSA data...

    Welcome to the world of "shared data", where NSA collected and shared data does not die and the FISA Courts cannot regulate Fed govt actions.

    FISA Courts only rule on NSA court requests and apparently have no control over NSA data that has been shared with other fed govt agencies. Therefore, FISA Court decisions may not apply to other Fed govt agencies and consequently the NSA collected data lives forever in other govt agencies databases.

    The real question is which Govt departments will have access to the NSA data for the first 5 years and what happens to that shared data held by other govt agencies after 5 years? The NSA may no longer have the data after 5 years, but some non-NSA govt department will still have that NSA collected data from automated data sharing between fed agencies...

    How will the FISA Courts' "5 year data retention limit" be enforced when NSA data has automatically been distributed to other govt agencies? Does this mean the ACLU and EFF have to sue each Fed govt agency individually to get them to dump illegally collected NSA data?

    My point is that there are multiple ways to hide illegally collected NSA data by other fed agencies copying all or parts of the NSA data and declaring it needs to be preserved for "on-going investigations" that have no time limit retention dates...