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Law School Case Brief

In re FBI - 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134786


The Supreme Court has applied this principle — that there is no Fourth Amendment search when the government obtains information that has been conveyed to third parties — in cases involving other types of business records.


On July 18, 2013, a verified Final “Application for Certain Tangible Things for Investigations to Protect Against International Terrorism” (Application) was submitted to the Court by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for an order pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA or the Act), 50 U.S.C.S. § 1861, as amended (also known as § 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act), requiring the ongoing daily production to the National Security Agency (NSA) of certain call detail records or “telephony metadata” in bulk. Specifically, the government requested Orders from the Court to obtain certain business records of specified telephone service providers. Those telephone company business records consist of a very large volume of each company's call detail records or telephony metadata, but expressly exclude the contents of any communication; the name, address, or financial information of any subscriber or customer; or any cell site location information (CSLI).


Did the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution impose any impediment to the government’s proposed collection?




The federal district court noted that the Fourth Amendment rights were personal and individual, and that so long as no individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy in meta data, the large number of persons whose communications will be subjected to the surveillance was irrelevant to the issue of whether a Fourth Amendment search or seizure will occur.  Since the application at issue concerned only the production of call detail records or “telephony metadata” belonging to a telephone company,” and not the contents of communications, the Court held that there was no Fourth Amendment impediment to the collection.

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