"The government is trying to move the goal posts -- shifting the court's inquiry from whether they are collecting the data to whether they are 'reviewing' it," says Cindy Cohn, Legal Director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has been in litigation against the NSA for dragnet surveillance since 2008 and which is party to one of the recently-filed lawsuits. "Your rights are violated when the government gets access to your phone records, regardless of what they do with them afterwards."
In any case, Cohn does not believe that the government is merely warehousing most of the phone records it collects. "I think there's no doubt that the government is doing some scanning of the phone records that includes all of them," she says. "I suspect by 'review' they mean some sort of human review, but again, that's not when the violation occurs. No one seriously thinks that a computer search -- which can result in your prosecution or being subject to further review -- isn't just as violative of your privacy as a human search. And no one seriously thinks that they are just piling up phone records in a computer somewhere and not doing any sort of searches at all on them until some later date."