The National Security Agency (NSA) will destroy all information it has collected over the last five years through a bulk phone metadata collection program authorized by the now-expired Patriot Act.
Starting November 29, following the 180-day transition period mandated by the new Freedom Act, analysts from the NSA will no longer be able to access the phone records of millions of Americans collected by the agency, as required by the new law. Instead, the NSA will have to receive a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to obtain certain phone records from the telephone companies that are relevant to its intelligence purposes.
"NSA has determined that analytic that analytic access to that historical metadata collected under Section 215 (any data collected before Nov. 29, 2015) will cease on Nov. 29, 2015," read a statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).
Nevertheless, the agency's technicians will still retain access to the information for the next several months, until the end of the 180-day transition. The NSA says this will allow the agency to verify the authenticity of the data collected under the new collection system mandated by the Freedom Act.
The NSA says it plans to destroy all records, but only after legal action concerning the bulk phone record collection program has been resolved. As per a court order issued to the agency, the NSA is required to preserve all records for purposes of litigation, which it says it will not access for other purposes.
"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 telephone metadata upon expiration of its litigation preservation obligations," the agency stated.
Under Section 215 of the defunct Patriot Act, the NSA was authorized to collect the telephone metadata of Americans as a means of intelligence data-gathering to help the NSA trace phone calls made in the United States to terrorists abroad. However, security officials have admitted that the program has not been instrumental in stopping terrorist attacks and called for the cancellation of the program.
Under the new Freedom Act, government agencies will still be able to collect telephone metadata from the telephone companies, but they will need a court order to do so.