Obama's NSA Reform Package May Hamstring Privacy Lawsuits

As surveillance supporters rally to end data dragnet, experts say reform may kill suits.

Reps. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, D-Md., and Mike Rogers, R-Mich., speak about proposed changes to the National Security Agency’s program of sweeping up and storing vast amounts of data on Americans' phone calls on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

Reps. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., and Mike Rogers, R-Mich., speak about proposed changes to the National Security Agency’s program of sweeping up and storing vast amounts of data on Americans' phone calls on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

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One unresolved issue if reforms are enacted is a preservation of evidence order from U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White that requires the NSA to not destroy the phone records it currently retains – including those older than the current five-year standard for retention. The older records must be sequestered from routine searches.

“These records are both an affront to the rights of millions of Americans and proof of their violation,” EFF attorney Kurt Opsahl told U.S. News before White’s ruling last week. “[T]he destruction of these documents is part of the ultimate relief the Plaintiffs seek.  But they also seek an accounting – so that people may know how their rights were violated.”

That sentiment may foreshadow arguments about mootness.

[ALSO: Congressmen Demand End to 'Black Budget' Secrecy]

Neither the forthcoming Obama administration proposal nor the Ruppersberger-Rogers bill would require phone companies to store records for longer periods of time than they currently do – between 18 months and 10 years, depending on the provider – allaying the fears of privacy advocates. Supporter of the bulk data collection previously said the program was needed to prevent acts of terrorism, but critics say the administration has offered no proof the near-decade-old program prevented any planned terror attack within the U.S.

As the legislative process unfolds, the administration will seek on Friday another 90-day renewal of the existing program.