The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has laid out a roadmap for restricting access to, and eventually deleting, years' worth of telephone records collected under the Patriot Act. In a statement today, the office addressed questions about how intelligence agencies will transition into the new, reformed surveillance framework, which was signed into law last month.
While the USA Freedom Act bans what's known as "bulk collection" of phone metadata, the NSA was given a six-month grace period to phase out the old program. When that period expires on November 29th, it will still have a large collection of old records (it was allowed to keep up to five years' worth) that are unrelated to any national security threat. But the ODNI promises that day will mark the beginning of the end for the database.
The records will be preserved, but not accessed, as part of ongoing privacy lawsuits
On November 29th, the ODNI says, intelligence analysts will lose access to past data. In theory, this means that they would no longer be able to search the records as part of anti-terrorism or national security investigations, a practice that has arguably been less than useful in foiling plots. They'll be able to make more limited requests from phone companies under the new rules.
That's not quite the end. For three months after that, "technical personnel" will be allowed to check the data — not for investigations, but "for data integrity purposes to verify the records produced" under the new USA Freedom Act rules. And for an undefined period of time after that, the data will be preserved as evidence in lawsuits against the NSA, which have been filed by organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The NSA's phone record collection was found illegal by a federal appeals court earlier this year, and it's not a surprise that the agency will eventually destroy the records. But this announcement remains another concrete step toward changing the program.