March 21 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. government was barred by a federal judge in San Francisco from destroying evidence relevant to lawsuits accusing the National Security Agency of illegal spying.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White said all records, documents, e-mails and storage tapes relevant to claims in lawsuits filed by the privacy rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation challenging NSA surveillance programs must be kept, including telephone records that normally would be destroyed five years after they were collected.
The order is the latest to affect bulk phone records collected under a government program that was disclosed in documents leaked by former security contractor Edward Snowden. EFF had argued that the data collection violates privacy rights.
The U.S. was ordered by the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in Washington to destroy records it had collected that were five years old because the privacy rights of people whose records were swept up in the database outweighed the need to keep them for use in litigation.
The surveillance court later ruled that the NSA could keep the records after White issued a temporary restraining order on March 10 blocking destruction of the records until it could be determined whether the records would be needed in the EFF cases.
Today, White ordered lawyers for the NSA and U.S. Justice Department to direct their clients to “halt such business or government practices” that involve the routine destruction of records that are relevant to the lawsuits and submit a statement to him by April 21 that his order has been carried out.
In Washington today, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, who presides over the FISC, ordered NSA lawyers to explain why they failed to notify him of orders to preserve evidence in the EFF cases.
The EFF case is First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. National Security Agency, 13-cv-03287, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).
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