Lawfare has posted a hugely helpful essay for those wanting to understand the NSA’s telephony metadata program and to read the best legal defense of that program: David S. Kris, On the Bulk Collection of Tangible Things (.pdf, 67 pages). Kris was the head of DOJ’s National Security Division from 2009 to 2011, and he is a co-author of the field’s essential treatise, National Security Investigations and Prosecutions.
Kris’s legal defense of the telephony metadata program runs laps around both the Administration’s white paper and the FISC’s recent opinion. As regular readers know, I have been pretty critical of the previous defenses of the lawfulness of the program. Kris’s analysis (especially pages 17-29) provides a lot more food for thought. It’s going to take me a while to work through his argument, and especially to read the additional cases he cites, so at this point I can’t say whether I am persuaded. But it’s essential reading for those interested in the legality of the program.