Will US expand NSA surveillance?

The federal government might actually expand the controversial surveillance program that collects Americans’ phone records in a bid to preserve evidence for the multiple lawsuits filed against the National Security Agency, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. 

The decision comes despite President Obama’s instruction in a speech on American surveillance practices last month that government officials find a way to end the data collection program.

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Obama tasked Attorney General Eric Holder and members of the intelligence community with finding a way to wind down the government program without eroding the government’s intelligence capabilities.

But, according to the Journal, government lawyers are worried that, if they shut down the program, they could violate evidence preservation rules requiring them to maintain the databases amid ongoing litigation. 

Civil liberties groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation have filed lawsuits charging the surveillance program is unconstitutional. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is also leading a class-action suit against the government program.

In fact, concerns over the legal challenges could even effectively expand the phone record database. At present, the government only maintains five years of call data, purging older information at least twice per year. But the government might now opt to maintain that older data in the interest of preserving evidence.

The concerns raised by the government lawyers are only likely to complicate the already difficult task of deciding how to wind down the metadata program.

A report prepared by a presidential review panel evaluating the surveillance program suggested that the records be maintained by telephone companies or a third party, rather than the government. But companies have been resistant to that idea, fearful it could sour their relationships with customers and prove expensive.

Last month, administration officials told The Washington Post they did not believe that Holder and intelligence officials could find a suitable solution within the president’s prescribed two month timeline.

The idea that this complicated problem will be solved in the next two months is very unlikely, if not impossible,” one official told the paper. “It is not at all inconceivable that the bulk collection program will stay the same, with the records held by the government until 2015," when the Patriot Act provision authorizing the collection expires.

The White House has insisted federal agencies were “hard at work” and would be able to meet the deadline.

"As the president said, these are complicated issues, but they are not new to us. We've already been working on them over the past six months and doing everything in our power, already we are, to meet those timelines," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in January.

"It's a complicated piece of business, but the president expects that action can be taken in the time line he's set," he added.