Washington Journal of Law, Technology & Arts


Edward Snowden became a household name on June 5, 2013, when he leaked highly classified documents revealing that the American Government was spying on its citizens. The information exposed that the National Security Agency (NSA) collected millions of American’s metadata through forced cooperation with telephone-service providers. Metadata contains sensitive and private information about a person’s life. When collected and searched, metadata can reveal a portrait of a person’s intimate activities amounting to a violation of one’s reasonable expectation of privacy. This Article suggests changing the current standard allowing the NSA to collect and search metadata under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. The threshold needed to obtain and search a person’s metadata should be raised from the current standard of reasonable and articulable suspicion to a higher burden of probable cause. Since Mr. Snowden’s unauthorized disclosure, there has been public outcry regarding metadata collection. In response, President Obama issued a Public Policy Directive limiting the scope of metadata that the NSA can collect. Additionally, Congress has proposed legislation changing how the NSA collects, stores, and searches metadata. The bills, however, keep intact the minimum reasonable and articulable standard necessary to search metadata. The breadth of information that can be gleaned from metadata makes it intrusive and subjects it to the Fourth Amendment. Yet gathering and searching metadata can be a valuable tool in the fight against terrorism and protecting American citizens from future attacks. Requiring the threshold to be raised to a probable cause determination adequately balances privacy interests against national security interests.

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