As a result of the Snowden revelations regarding the NSA’s spying on basically the whole world, some privacy advocates have filed lawsuits against the NSA in US courts. Naturally, this results in the NSA having to gather evidence by subpoena to prove their side of the story. This is especially true when you consider that James Clapper, the Director of the NSA, lied to Congress about exactly what the NSA was and wasn’t doing. Yet, somehow the guy is still in power and has not faced any repercussions for his lies. As such, there are multiple lawsuits claiming that the NSA has overstepped the boundaries of what the law permits and require the NSA to provide evidence of this one way or another.
Now, according to the Washington Post, the NSA claims that their systems are far too complex and as a result of that, they are unable to save evidence that is being required for them to hold by the court. This is because of court cases like Jewel v NSA and the EFF’s countless lawsuits against the NSA as well. In a hearing in the US District for California’s Northern District court, Judge Jeffrey S. White reversed an emergency order he had issued earlier the same week barring the government from destroying data that the EFF had asked be preserved for the case. The data is collected under Section 702 of the Amendments Act to the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act).
The NSA argued that it would be too much of a burden on them to hold the data. The NSA’s Deputy Director, Richard Ledgett, in a court filing stated, “A requirement to preserve all data acquired under section 702 presents significant operational problems, only one of which is that the NSA may have to shut down all systems and databases that contain Section 702 information.”
He states that the complexity of the NSA’s systems means that preservation efforts might not work, but would have “an immediate, specific, and harmful impact on the national security of the United States.” After dropping that NSA standard tagline, which the department regularly uses to protect their programs, he stated that part of the complexity of these systems has to do with the privacy restrictions placed on the programs by the FISA court. Which, if their scope were not so wide, would be believable, but I have a feeling it has a lot more to do with the amount of data they collect and the amount of warehousing they have. I don’t think anyone honestly buys the fact that the NSA’s respecting our privacy is the reason why we can’t get evidence from automatically getting deleted. Plus, if they can’t back up what they’re doing in court with evidence, maybe they shouldn’t be doing it in the first place?
The amount of data the NSA goes through on a daily basis is probably nearing petabytes, if it isn’t petabytes of data. So, naturally, they would need to delete data they do not believe is relevant fairly quickly in order to be able to store the more important data for longer periods of time. After all, they don’t have millions of hard drives at their disposal to store everything they record, even if they wish they could. They probably do have close to that, though.