NSA deletes millions of records it should never have had
The National Security Agency (NSA) is purging millions of phone records from its data banks -- and that's a very good thing, because many of those records were never supposed to be in the NSA's hands in the first place:
In this case, Congress passed the USA Freedom Act in 2015 to better control (and potentially limit) the NSA's access to the metadata (that is, everything but the conversations' actual content) of Americans' communications. This reform was part of a backlash against the mass surveillance exposed by Edward Snowden, and the bill was passed after some privacy-minded lawmakers, such as Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), forced a part of the Patriot Act to expire that was being used to justify mass amounts of domestic snooping.
Under the USA Freedom Act, the NSA no longer collects and combs through our communications metadata itself. Instead it now has to request records from telecommunications companies using strictly defined search terms. No more fishing expeditions. Allegedly.
The problem, as Charlie Savage of The New York Times uncovered, is that the telecom companies were accidentally sending too many records in response to NSA requests. And so the agency was receiving private personal information about Americans' communications data that it neither asked for nor had the right to examine...
And that's a real problem. To fix it, the NSA is getting rid of the entire lot of records -- nearly a half billion of them.
We understand the need to monitor the actions and movements of those who intend to do our nation harm. But there is a fine line, and a constitutional barrier, between stopping those (foreign) agents, and sweeping millions of innocent American citizens into the dragnet.
It's a net positive the NSA has decided to get rid of records it cannot legally have. We should expect them to do so. But it also seems this will not be the end of a problem that needs both government and private companies to solve.