According to the National Security Agency, its systems are too big and too complex to keep all the information required by a federal court.
In a court filing on Friday, the NSA said that it was unable to ensure that it was not destroying evidence in a case over the legality of its surveillance operations, as a judge demanded.
The NSA also claimed that the order would force it to break other rules about minimizing records and could lead to “severe operational difficulties that could jeopardize national security.”
The case, which was filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 2008, long before the leaks from Edward Snowden, centers on the agency’s collection of information about Americans' activity on the phone and online.
Last week, the Internet rights group said that it discovered that the NSA was destroying information that might be relevant to the case. The discrit court judge for the Northern District of California, Jeffrey White, ordered the spy agency to explain itself and not destory any more materials.
The information, the NSA explained, “reside[s] within multiple databases contained on multiple systems,” which are designed to get rid of information after a certain point.
It would take months to change the systems, the NSA added, and would have to shut them all down to comply immediately.
“The impact of a shutdown of the databases and systems that contain [the surveillance program] information cannot be overstated.”
Critics of the agency’s snooping jumped on the agency's filing as proof that it needed to be reined in.
“The crucial question is this: If the NSA does not have to keep evidence of its spying activities, how can a court ever test whether it is in fact complying with the Constitution?” American Civil Liberties Union attorney Patrick ToomeyPat ToomeySenate poll raises Republican hopes in Pennsylvania, Florida Lawmakers press Lynch for briefing on Yahoo secret email scanning reports ACLU blasts Yahoo's secret email searches for government MORE wrote in a blog post on Tuesday.
“The NSA has grown far beyond the ability of its overseers to properly police its spying activities.”