- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Historic phone records collected in bulk by the National Security Agency are poised to be purged from the NSA’s database later this year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said this week.

Effective Nov. 29, NSA analysts will no longer have access to a trove of millions of call records and other so-called metadata that had been collected by U.S. intelligence officials pursuant to an interpretation of part of the post-9/11 Patriot Act that was reined in earlier this year.

The ODNI said in a statement on Monday that “analytic access to that historical metadata,” previously collected under Section 215 of the counterterrorism law, will end in around four months; technical personnel will have their access revoked in February, the ODNI said.

In light of ongoing litigation, however, the ODNI acknowledged that any of those records that were collected during the last five years cannot be expunged until those legal matters are resolved.

“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,” the ODNI said.

Under Section 215 authority, telephony metadata containing basic information such as the duration of phone calls and the parties involved had been collected by the NSA and stored to be queried during late possible investigations.

Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden leaked details about that program in 2013, which spawned an international debate concerning the American surveillance apparatus and its capabilities that had previously been kept hidden from the public and subsequent scrutiny. The program faced challenges in several federal courts and the House and Senate.

In June, Congress approved the USA Freedom Act, in turn ending the intelligence community’s ability to conduct dragnet phone surveillance that had been codified shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Passage of the USA Freedom Act provided for a six-month transition period in which private telecommunication companies will prepare to be the sole collectors of user call records.

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