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United States v. Moalin

Concerning Whether the Government Violated the Law and Violated the Defendant's Fourth Amendment Rights By Collecting His Telephone Metadata As Part of the NSA's Warrantless Bulk Collection Program


The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable government searches and seizures, and courts have held that generally a warrant based on probable cause should be required to conduct a search or seizure. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, 50 U.S.C. § 1861, previously authorized the government to collect business records relevant to a national security investigation; under this authority, the NSA was collecting all telephone call detail records (metadata) from major US service providers. The defendant, Basaaly Moalin, was convicted following the government's identification of him through the NSA Metadata program. Mr. Moalin has challenged both the legal basis and the constitutionality of the NSA Metadata program.

Top News

  • Privacy Board Supports End of NSA Call Record Program: The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has issued a report emphasizing the minimal value of the NSA's call details records program. The Board recommended the end of the program, which the NSA suspended last year after concerns about compliance with legal standards established in the US Freedom Act. According to the PLCOB report, the government spent $100 million on the program, yet opened only one non-duplicative investigation. EPIC recently joined 44 civil liberties organizations in backing the end of the NSA surveillance program. In 2013, EPIC filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, In re EPIC, challenging the lawfulness of the NSA's bulk collection of American's telephone records. (Feb. 27, 2020)
  • Reports - NSA Call Record Program Shut Down: The National Security Agency has reportedly ended the controversial collection of Americans' phone records. The USA Freedom Act limited the NSA's bulk collection program. However, the NSA has acknowledged compliance problems and doubts remain about renewal of the program later this year. Now, a senior Hill aide has said the NSA "hasn't actually been using it for the past six months" and it is not clear "that the administration will want to start that back up." In 2013, EPIC filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging the lawfulness of the program. EPIC and a coalition have since called attention to the NSA's failure comply with the requirements of the Freedom Act. EPIC previously called for an end to the phone record collection program. (Mar. 5, 2019)
  • More top news »
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    In comments to the Department of Homeland Security, EPIC urged the agency to withdraw proposed Privacy Act exemptions. The FALCON database contains detailed personal information on ICE and CBP employees, and individuals associated with ICE investigations including victims and witnesses. For this government database, DHS has proposed to exempt itself from several Privacy Act protections including ensuring that the records are accurate, timely, and complete. EPIC has consistently warned against inaccurate, insecure, and overbroad government databases. The FBI recently postponed an "Insider Threat" database that also lacked adequate Privacy Act safeguards.
  • FBI Postpones Insider Threat Database » (May. 31, 2017)
    The FBI has postponed a plan to establish an "insider threat database" of FBI employees that would have included vast amounts of personal data, such as medical diagnostics and biometric data, on FBI employees, family members, dependents, relatives, and other personal associations. EPIC submitted comments critical of the agency plan that would have also removed important Privacy Act safeguards. The Department of Justice suggested that the delay is temporary and that a similar database may still be established for Department of Justice components. EPIC has consistently warned against inaccurate, insecure, and overly intrusive government databases.
  • Government Breaches Continue, Hacker Compromises more than 130,000 Navy Records » (Nov. 29, 2016)
    In the latest government data breach, the Navy reported that a hacker gathered the personal data of more than 130,000 current and former sailors from a laptop that belonged to a government contractor. Government security vulnerabilities are on the rise. In 2015, the records of more than 21 million federal workers, friends and family members were breached. In 2016, EPIC urged candidates for office to focus on "data protection." EPIC has warned that inaccurate, insecure, and overbroad government databases pose a risks to the safety of Americans. Earlier this year, EPIC urged the Dept. of Defense and Dept. of Homeland Security to drop proposals to expand government databases that lacked adequate privacy safeguards.
  • Supreme Court Weakens Fourth Amendment Protections During Police Stops » (Jun. 20, 2016)
    In Utah v. Strieff, the U.S. Supreme Court held today that an outstanding arrest warrant can attenuate “the connection between an unlawful stop and the evidence seized incident to arrest.” The holding reverses the Utah Supreme Court, which had suppressed evidence obtained by an officer who stopped Strieff illegally and ran his ID to look for outstanding warrants. EPIC and 22 technical experts filed an amicus brief, warning the Court that reversing the Utah court would allow vast amounts of personal data stored in government databases—much of it inaccurate—to provide post hoc justification for unlawful seizures.
  • Supreme Court to Consider Fourth Amendment ID-Check Case » (Feb. 22, 2016)
    The Supreme Court will hear arguments today in Utah v. Strieff. At issue is the use of evidence obtained from government databases following an illegal police stop. In a brief signed by twenty-one technical experts and legal scholars, EPIC warned about the vast amount of personal data, much of it inaccurate, stored in government databases and pointed to the failure of the Justice Department to enforce Privacy Act safeguards. EPIC argued that "a diminished Fourth Amendment standard coupled with a weakened Privacy Act is truly a recipe for a loss of liberty in America." EPIC had filed amicus briefs in several related Supreme Court cases, including Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District, Tolentino v. New York, and Herring v. U.S..
  • EPIC Urges Supreme Court to Uphold Fourth Amendment Safeguards for Police Stops » (Jan. 29, 2016)
    EPIC has filed a "friend-of-the-court" brief in Utah v. Strieff, a U.S. Supreme Court case about whether the Fourth Amendment allows evidence to be admitted after an illegal stop. Mr. Strieff was unlawfully detained by an officer, who checked his ID and then arrested him on an unrelated outstanding warrant. In a brief, signed by twenty-one technical experts and legal scholars, EPIC detailed a number of sweeping government databases that contain inaccurate and detailed records about Americans' noncriminal activity. EPIC argued that "a diminished Fourth Amendment standard coupled with a weakened Privacy Act is truly a recipe for a loss of liberty in America." EPIC previously argued against compelled identification during police stops in Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District and Tolentino v. New York.

Questions Presented

  • In seizing the telephony metadata of Moalin, did the government act beyond the authority granted to it by 50 U.S.C. §1861?
  • Did the government violate Appellants’ First and Fourth Amendment rights by seizing the personal metadata of Moalin (and millions of other Americans) and using it to pursue this criminal case?
  • Were Appellants deprived of their right to access and present exculpatory evidence regarding the investigation of Moalin in the early 2000's that concluded he was not involved in terrorism?
  • Did the district court properly exclude evidence that Moalin was opposed to al-Shabaab because the proffered evidence was from 2009 and the indictment charged 2007-08 acts? Did the district court properly deny Appellants’ motion to allow the videotaped deposition of a witness with exculpatory evidence? Did the district court allow unduly prejudicial and irrelevant material in allowing the government to present evidence about the “Black Hawk Down” incident when it was factually unrelated to any of the charges?
  • Did sufficient evidence support Issa Doreh’s convictions?


The Criminal Case

The defendants in this case were indicted in June of 2012 on five counts related to providing financial support to al-Shabaab, a Somali militia group that was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. State Department on February 26, 2008. During the lower court proceedings, the defendants filed motions to suppress evidence collected pursuant to warrants and electronic surveillance orders issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which the court denied. The defendants also requested that their security-cleared counsel be granted access to pertinent FISA applications and related materials in order to prepare their legal and constitutional defenses. The defendants were ultimately convicted by a jury on February 22, 2013.

Following the conviction, it was revealed in June 2013 that the National Security Agency (NSA) had been collecting all domestic and international telephone metadata from major US providers for more than ten years. During congressional hearings before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence following the Snowden revelations, the Deputy Director of the FBI specifically cited the Moalin case as an example of an investigation where the NSA Metadata program had been used to identify the suspect. The defendants subsequently filed a motion for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 on November 14, 2013, based on the NSA revelations and the government's failure to produce evidence related to the pertinent FISA court applications and materials. In particular, Mr. Moalin argued that the FBI had only reopened his case in 2007 as a result of a tip generated by the NSA Metadata program./p>

The court denied the defendants' motion for a new trial. The defendants subsequently filed an appeal to the Ninth Circuit, which is currently pending.

The NSA Metadata Program

The NSA Metadata program, as it was revealed in June 2013, involved orders issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act (50 U.S.C. § 1861) to Verizon and other major U.S. telephone providers. These orders required the companies to produce to the NSA, on an ongoing basis, all telephone metadata (including for local and domestic calls).

Section 215 provides that FBI director may make "application for an order requiring the production of any tangible things" for an "investigation to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities" and that each application shall include "a statement of facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation." (emphasis added). The application can be submitted to a FISC judge, who "shall enter" the order if she finds that the application meets the requirements.

Following the Snowden revelations, it was discovered that the U.S. Government and FISC judges had interpreted Section 215 to permit the collection of all telephone metadata from major U.S. providers. In particular, the Government had argued (and the FISC judges held) that all telephone metadata records are "relevant" to the ongoing investigation(s) into foreign terrorist groups. EPIC and other groups subsequently filed petitions and cases challenging this interpretation of Section 215.


With the Section 215 authorities scheduled to sunset on June 1, 2015, Congress was divided over reform proposals in the USA FREEDOM Act (and other similar bills) on the one hand, and proposals to simply renew the existing authorities on the other. Ultimately, Congress allowed the Section 215 authorities to lapse briefly until they passed the USA FREEDOM Act in June 2, 2015. The Freedom Act amended the FISA to prohibit bulk collection of telephone metadata and other records, and also established new transparency and accountability rules for the FISC. Under the revised provisions, the NSA can request metadata related to a particular telephone number when they have a "reasonable articulable suspicion" that it is connected to terrorist activities.

EPIC's Interest

EPIC advocates for strong constitutional limitations on domestic and electronic surveillance. EPIC has a particular interest in the NSA Metadata Program, having brought the first challenge in the Supreme Court, In re EPIC, 134 S. Ct. 638 (2013), and having testified before Congress on the need to limit the scope of the agency’s surveillance activities. EPIC has also recently submitted an amicus brief in Smith v. Obama, No. 14-35555 (9th Cir.), a case currently pending before this Court, arguing that the court should not extend the third party doctrine to modern metadata because the factual premises underlying Smith v. Maryland no longer apply. EPIC routinely participates as amicus curiae before federal and state appellate courts in cases involving emerging privacy and electronic surveillance issues. See, e.g., Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014); Clapper v. Amnesty Int’l USA, 133 S.Ct. 1138 (2013); United States v. Jones, 132 S.Ct. 945 (2012); United States v. Ganias, No. 12-240 (2d Cir.); In re National Security Letter, Nos. 13-15957 & 13-16731 (9th Cir.); In re US Application for CSLI, 724 F.3d 600 (5th Cir. 2013); State v. Earls, 70 A.3d 630 (N.J. 2013); Commonwealth v. Connolly, 913 N.E.2d 356 (Mass. 2009).

Legal Documents

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, No. 13-50572

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, No. 10-cr-4246



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