Big Data

Report: Government might expand NSA's database

black box

Despite recommendations from review boards and President Barack Obama to curb intelligence agencies' surveillance of Americans, the National Security Agency database that holds phone record metadata may be about to get even bigger.

According to a Feb. 20 report in the Wall Street Journal, the government might expand its database to ensure that information is not destroyed while NSA battles myriad lawsuits from organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Historically, federal courts have ruled that defendants cannot destroy evidence -- in this case, electronic records -- that could be useful to plaintiffs.

"A number of government lawyers involved in lawsuits over the NSA phone-records program believe federal court rules on preserving evidence related to lawsuits require the agency to stop routinely destroying older phone records, according to people familiar with the discussions," the article states. "As a result, the government would expand the database beyond its original intent, at least while the lawsuits are active."

The report stresses that "no final decision has been made to preserve the data," and noted that even if a decision is made to retain the information, it could be held only for litigation purposes and not for queries from intelligence community analysts.

NSA's database holds metadata on phone call records for about five years. That information includes where and when a call was made, to whom and the duration of the call. Twice annually, information on calls made more than five years previously are purged from the system. It is unclear how long the government would retain records if it decides to stop routinely destroying them.

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.


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