Feb 3, 2015 · 2 minutes

Intelligence agencies in the United States will soon have to delete information with "no intelligence purpose" after mass surveillance programs, revealed by intel contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden, were criticized.

The new rules will require this irrelevant information to be deleted immediately if it concerns American citizens. Data collected about foreigners, however, can be held for up to five years. (Unless the Director of National Intelligence grants an extension; then it can be held longer.)

The updated rule was revealed as part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence's report on how the country's intelligence community is responding to Snowden's revelations and President Obama's call in January 2014 to revise the government's surveillance practices.

In addition to limiting how long this data can be held, the new rules will also require agents to stop sharing data simply because it's about foreigners. They're now "required to consider the privacy interests of non-U.S. persons when drafting and disseminating intelligence reports."

Other highlights of the report, as pointed out by Bloomberg:

Under the policy changes, the National Security Council will have greater insight into the collection of foreign intelligence in order to address 'potential risks to national interests and our law enforcement, intelligence, and diplomatic relationships abroad,' according to the report.

'The NSA has enhanced its processes to ensure that targets are regularly reviewed, and those targets that are no longer providing valuable intelligence information in support of these senior policy maker approved priorities are removed.' And by the New York Times:

In its announcement, the administration will also make modest changes in the use of national security letters, a disputed law enforcement program that Mr. Obama declined to terminate. In national security-related cases, the F.B.I. uses the letters to obtain information from companies, including telephone records or the names of subscribers. Unlike a subpoena, no judge is involved; the F.B.I. issues the letters by itself, usually requiring that the recipients never disclose the letters’ existence.

In the new rules, “the F.B.I. will now presumptively terminate National Security Letter nondisclosure orders at the earlier of three years” after the opening of an investigation, the administration will announce, or at the close of the investigations. But an exception can be made if a midlevel F.B.I. official offers a written justification for continued secrecy.

Other efforts, including those to move metadata from the government's hands to a privacy company's, have been put on hold because no one wants to be responsible for that data.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]