Bulk Metadata Collection: Statutory and Constitutional Considerations

Laura Donohue

Georgetown University Law Center


Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 37, pp. 757-900, 2014

On May 24, 2006, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) approved an FBI application for an order, pursuant to 50 U.S.C. § 1861, requiring Verizon to turn over all telephony metadata to the National Security Agency. The Court subsequently approved similar applications for all major U.S. telecommunication service providers. Over the next seven years, FISC issued orders renewing the bulk collection program thirty-four times. Almost all of the information obtained related to the activities of law-abiding persons who were not the subjects of any investigation.

This program remained secret until mid-2013, when a combination of leaks by Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency (NSA) employee, and Freedom of Information Act litigation launched by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, forced key documents into the public domain. In response, the Obama Administration issued statements, fact sheets, redacted FISC opinions, and even a White Paper, acknowledging the existence of the program and arguing that it is both legal and constitutional.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 145

Keywords: bulk metadata collection, surveillance, privacy rights, constitutional law, foreign law, Fourth Amendment, First Amendment, National Security

JEL Classification: K00, K30, K39

Accepted Paper Series

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Date posted: June 22, 2014  

Suggested Citation

Donohue, Laura, Bulk Metadata Collection: Statutory and Constitutional Considerations (2014). Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 37, pp. 757-900, 2014. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2457220

Contact Information

Laura Donohue (Contact Author)
Georgetown University Law Center ( email )
600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States
202 662-9282 (Phone)
202 662-9282 (Fax)
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