The NSA is to purge all phone records data which had been collected within the now expiring program of bulk surveillance. This was confirmed on Monday and will commence, pending litigation, early next year. National Intelligence confirms phone records from the previous 5 years will be destroyed under Section 215. Analytic access to phone records ends November 29th and destroyed 3 months following.
The decision is seen widely as a victory for privacy groups and advocates but who had concerns around the winding down process under new reforms may have seen the NSA continuing to study phone records already collected. The phone records surveillance program was arguably the most controversial exposed 2 years ago by Edward Snowden.
There was a mini revival of the phone records program after it lapsed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court around the renewal of spying provisions under The Patriot Act that had lapsed. The court had advised that NSA reforms (USA Freedom Act) allowed a 6 month period of transition in which the collection of phone records would continue. However November 29th will see the NSA revert to a system that is more limited and to which meta data of phone records can be requested. That being duration and numbers but not contents. This on the basis of as needed from the relevant providers.
There remains caveats in that technical personnel will have access to phone records meta data 3 months following the 6 month transitional period. Due to ongoing litigation the ODNI has advised that they are legally obliged to preserve phone records meta data already harvested. Though no specific cases have been referred to it is supposed cases brought by The Electronic Frontier Foundation. EFF claims the surveillance program was not authorised under statute and was unconstitutional. It remains unclear if there will be exceptions to the purge and/or if any other government agency may preserve some phone records.