Ever since Edward Snowden revealed the NSA’s bulk phone data collection in 2013, the program has undergone a rollercoaster ride of public debate, litigation, expirations, and renewals. After Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which granted the NSA the authority to collect the data after 9/11, expired this June, Congress passed a law extending the program for six more months. The NSA queried this database of phone data around 300 times a year in order to search for terrorists, although the program failed to identify any terrorist plots.
The NSA has been deleting this phone data after five years, but some privacy advocates have been concerned about what would happen to the last five years’ worth of data once the program is ended. This Monday, the director of the NSA confirmed that the extensive database of phone records would no longer be accessed after November 29 of this year, and that the records would be destroyed as soon as possible.
To those who have been following this story closely, it may come as no surprise that the end date announced by the NSA is still not the final end of the program. Although the government intends to delete the data three months after the November end date, they have noted that they cannot delete the data until lawsuits against the NSA over the collection have been resolved. The NSA has also said it would allow “technical personnel” to continue accessing the phone records for three months after November 29, “solely for data-integrity purposes to verify the records produced under the new targeted production authorized by the USA Freedom Act.”