As part of a recent lawsuit filed against the National Security Agency on behalf of AT&T customers, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White issued an order last Thursday prohibiting the NSA from destroying documents and records relating to the the agency’s “Section 702” program, which monitors the online communications of suspected terrorists, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.
About 24 hours later, the judge retracted his order, allowing the destruction of Section 702 evidence to continue.
It all started in March, when Judge White reportedly ordered the NSA not to destroy evidence related to its telephone surveillance system. The NSA complained, saying it was required by law to destroy these records every five years, but the judge said the evidence could prove useful in the AT&T case, and in another case against the agency filed by 23 California organizations.
At the request of lawyers for AT&T customers, the judge extended his order prohibiting the NSA’s destruction of evidence to include the Section 702 program on Thursday. According to the Chronicle, Section 702 records contain the actual content of e-mail and Facebook messages, whereas the telephone data contains only the numbers called and the times the calls were placed.
The NSA immediately went on the offensive.
Section 702 is “the most significant tool in the NSA collection arsenal for the detection, identification, and disruption of terrorist threats to the U.S. and around the world,” Richard Ledgett, the NSA’s deputy director, reportedly said in a statement. Ledgett went further, saying a requirement to keep all records would be too strenuous on NSA computers, possibly overworking them and causing malfunction.
So, 24 hours after he had issued his order prohibiting destruction of Section 702 evidence, Judge White retracted it, apparently on the merit of Ledgett’s statements.
Cindy Cohn, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which represents the AT&T customers in the suit, said she was disappointed, but vowed the fight would continue.
“In the short term, we did not get what we wanted, but in the long term, we’re not done,” she said, according to the Chronicle report.