Privacy protection in the information era has posed many novel challenges before the governments around the world. Till now governments around the world have conveniently ignored civil liberties protection in cyberspace. They simply presumed that there is nothing like privacy in the cyberspace. They have also felt no need to reconcile national security aspects with civil liberties protection.
However, developments at the United Nations (UN) levels have proved that civil liberties in cyberspace cannot be brushed away so lightly. The United Nations (UN) Third Committee recently approved text titled Right to Privacy in the Digital Age and this has put some pressure upon governments around the world to respect civil liberties in cyberspace. Further, the blatant and unconstitutional e-surveillance and eavesdropping exercises by intelligence agencies like National Security Agency (NSA) and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has also evoked sharp criticism from civil liberty activities and general public at large.
This has led to a change of policy regarding e-surveillance in U.S. Recently; Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that phone users have reasonable expectation of privacy. Similarly, the White House is considering the options to restructure NSA’s phone surveillance program.
In a related development, the U.S. Government has moved the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, 1978 (FISA Act) to amend the primary order No. BR 14:01. In Re Application of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for an Order Requiring Extended Storage of Telephone Metadata and Call Records (PDF) the U.S. Government has sought permission form the FISA Court to allow it to preserve and store certain call data records or telephone metadata (BR Metadata) beyond the initial period of five years.
The Government has assured that such extended retention would be managed under strict conditions and for the limited purpose of allowing the Government to comply with its preservation obligations arising due to civil lawsuits field against it. These lawsuits have challenged the legality of the NSA’s Section 215 bulk telephony metadata collection program. The Government maintains that while the Court’s Primary Order requires destruction of the BR Metadata after 5 years yet the Government is required to retain such data beyond 5 years due to its preservation obligations due to the pending suits.
The parties that have filed the suits have confirmed that they have no objection of the entire database is deleted as per the original order. They are maintaining that this is just an excuse to keep the data for a longer period than authorised by the FISA Court.