The NSA has said it will delete its mountain of private telephone records belonging to millions of Americans – just as soon as people stop suing it for having done so.
The agency's slurping of phone numbers, the times and dates of calls, and (in some case) the locations of cellphone calls, was exposed in the first-ever leak of classified documents by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013. The NSA collected and stored the private data thanks to Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act.
This unabated blanket monitoring was supposed to stop after the passing of the USA FREEDOM Act in June 2015. In that same month, the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled that the NSA could continue to collect phone metadata as usual for another six months, at which point the the new USA FREEDOM Act comes into effect.
That cutoff date – November 29, 2015 – is now set.
After that date, Uncle Sam's agents must jump over a few minor hurdles to get copies of your private records, and can no longer pore over their treasure trove of previously collected metadata.
Well, almost. For another three months, from November 30, some of its techies can check over the data. After that, the historical data is off limits to the agency, or so we're told.
"NSA has determined that analytic access to that historical metadata collected under Section 215 (any data collected before November 29, 2015) will cease on November 29, 2015," the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) explained on its Tumblr page.
"However, solely for data integrity purposes to verify the records produced under the new targeted production authorized by the USA FREEDOM Act, NSA will allow technical personnel to continue to have access to the historical metadata for an additional three months."
So all the metadata – which is usually kept for about five years – is going to be deleted. But wait, there's more:
"Separately, NSA remains under a continuing legal obligation to preserve its bulk 215 telephony metadata collection until civil litigation regarding the program is resolved, or the relevant courts relieve NSA of such obligations," the ODNI added.
"The telephony metadata preserved solely because of preservation obligations in pending civil litigation will not be used or accessed for any other purpose, and, as soon as possible, NSA will destroy the Section 215 bulk telephony metadata upon expiration of its litigation preservation obligations."