A Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge denied a request Friday by the National Security Agency to keep Internet and phone metadata gathered through bulk surveillance programs longer than five years.
Judge Reggie Walton of the secret FISA Court that approves classified surveillance warrants said the government failed to make a compelling case for preserving the data beyond the current five-year maximum, especially in light of escalating privacy concerns sparked by programs leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Many of those program’s protocols were either misrepresented to the court, or not presented at all.
“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,” Walton wrote in the order posted by Politico.
“The government seeks to retain these records, not for national security reasons, but because some of them may be relevant in civil litigation in which the destruction of those very same records is being requested,” Walton said. “However, the civil plaintiffs potentially interested in preserving the BR [bulk records] metadata have expressed no desire to acquire the records.”
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion in late February to keep the data indefinitely for use in pending lawsuits, potential future suits, and for the NSA’s stated purpose of establishing data trails for identifying possible terrorists or connections to them.
“The great majority of these individuals have never been the subject of investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities,” Walton said. “Accordingly, the government’s motion is DENIED.”
Though Walton’s Friday ruling denies the government’s request, the last of its 12 pages leaves the possibility open for the government to present a follow-up case citing additional justification for the retention of metadata beyond the five-year mark.