S.F. judge blocks destruction of NSA phone records
Source: SFGate | Published: March 10, 2014 by Bob Egelko
A federal judge in San Francisco blocked the Obama administration Monday from destroying millions of records of National Security Agency telephone surveillance, issuing a nationwide order to preserve evidence for a half-dozen invasion-of-privacy lawsuits.
The NSA, which has acknowledged obtaining phone numbers and other information on all calls in the United States in its hunt for terrorists, was prepared Tuesday to destroy all records collected more than five years ago. The secretive court that approved the surveillance has required purging the documents after five years as a privacy measure, and denied the government’s request Friday to extend that timetable for the pending lawsuits.
On Monday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of San Francisco, who is presiding over one of the suits, ordered the phone records left undisturbed until March 19, when he will hold a hearing on preserving them further.
White said he was simply enforcing an order he had issued in an earlier NSA surveillance case barring destruction of evidence. He said he would be unable to grant “effective relief” to the current plaintiffs if the government got rid of the records before he decided whether they were legally collected.
Those plaintiffs include civil rights, environmental and religious groups as well as gun organizations and marijuana advocates, who all contend their relations with their members have been disrupted by revelations of government surveillance. Suits are also pending in five federal courts in other states.
The NSA began collecting records of domestic phone calls after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and since 2006 has gotten warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The agency says the documents contain the numbers that were called and the time and duration of each of them, but do not include the contents of the calls.