Judge: NSA Can't Destroy Phone-Call Records

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A federal judge ordered the National Security Agency to cancel plans to destroy phone records collected five years ago, according to court documents filed Monday.

U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White, who issued the temporary restraining order in California, is also overseeing two lawsuits that involve the NSA's "Prism" surveillance program leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

White ordered the records be preserved to allow time to decide whether that information is relevant to the pair of lawsuits.

"It is undisputed that the Court would be unable to afford effective relief once the records are destroyed, and therefore the harm to Plaintiffs would be irreparable," White wrote in his two-page ruling.

White set a March 19 hearing to assess whether the order should be extended past that date — but it is at odds with a ruling from the secret federal court that approved the NSA's data collection.

That secret court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), requires that records be destroyed after five years in the interest of privacy. On Friday, FISC rejected the government's request to keep the records for a longer period because of the lawsuits pending.

In that ruling on Friday, a FISC judge said halting destruction of the records "would further infringe on the privacy interests of United States persons whose telephone records were acquired in vast numbers and retained by the government to aid in national security investigations."