The NSA cannot keep American phone records for longer than five years, according to a ruling from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court responsible for keeping the agency’s actions in check.
Hanging on to phone data for more than five years would amount to further “infring[ing] on the privacy interests of United States persons whose telephone records were acquired in vast numbers and retained by the government," said Judge Reggie Walton. "The government seeks to retain these records, not for national security reasons, but because some of them may be relevant in civil litigation in which the destruction of those very same records is being requested."
In a previous decision, the court granted the NSA permission to store collected phone data for five years. However, the Department of Justice requested that time frame be extended on the grounds that phone records could be relevant as evidence in existing lawsuits brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union.