Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
November 28, 2014

The 18-Month Data Retention Question

king 299 043014 445x310 The 18 Month Data Retention Question

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

When it comes to storing phone call information in a way that’s useful for intelligence agencies, do there need to be requirements on how long to store the data? What are the privacy and business implications?  Senators and witnesses dug into those questions in a hearing yesterday.

CQ Roll Call’s Rob Margetta reports that the chairwoman of the Senate intelligence panel says lawmakers should consider requiring telephone companies to keep call data on file for at least 18 months under surveillance overhaul legislation. The question lingers in part because the bill passed by the House last month would “prohibit the government from bulk metadata collection, leaving that information in the hands of the phone companies and allowing the government to query it” but doesn’t include a requirement for the length of time those companies would have to keep the data, Margetta writes.

The companies “don’t want to do it,” Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said yesterday after a Senate Intelligence hearing, according to Margetta. She said lawmakers don’t want to impose a mandate, but that the public wants an overhaul and a requirement like that might be needed to retain intelligence capabilities.

Here’s Verizon’s vice president and assistant general counsel Michael Woods answering a question from Maine Independent Angus King about Woods’ position on an 18 or two-year retention provision, which gives a sense of the debate (from the CQ Transcripts file):

WOODS: We would be very much opposed to it. Our position is that as now, we produce the records that we retain for business purposes. We do not want to be compelled to retain records beyond that.

KING: But I don’t see how we can make this change if you don’t — if you’re not willing to make that commitment. What if you change your policies and say we’re only going to keep records for two months. Then we really have lost virtually all the intelligence value.

WOODS: Well, senator, as technology develops, people and companies will transition from older to new forms of technology. The, you know, the kind of records that were generated by the old switched telephone system are not the same kind of records that are generated by the wireless system. And as the bulk of people’s telephone usage moves from one system to the other, the kinds of records that we have change. They’re probably going to change again as — as things evolve…

King goes on to note that national security protection becomes just an illusion if data isn’t kept for a period of time that’s meaningful, while Woods brings up privacy concerns with keeping records longer than needed for business purposes.

Also recently, heads of major tech companies including Apple, Google and Facebook have called for the Senate to go further than the House on surveillance overhaul legislation.

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