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Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978

From dKosopedia



The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) became law on October 25, 1978. It establishes procedures for the application, approval, and extension of orders authorizing the use of electric surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes. Permits the United States Attorney General to authorize emergency employment of such surveillance for 24 hours in the absence of a judicial order. It also requires the Chief Justice of the United States to designate seven district court judges to the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)to hear applications for, and grant orders approving, electronic surveillance anywhere within the United States.

In 1995, the act was amended to cover physical searches.

In 2001, the Patriot Act amended FISA to extend the grace period from 24 to 72 hours. It also changed the composition of the FISC.

In 2002, Sen. DeWine proposed loosening the standards for domestic surveillance; however, both the Justice Dept. and the Congress opposed his changes. DeWine’s proposal would have lowered the standard for obtaining a warrant for surveillance of foreigners within the United States from “probable cause” to “reasonable suspicion.” The Justice Department was represented by James A. Baker, who was the Counsel for Intelligence Policy, and head of Office of Intelligence Policy and Review. In a statement to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, he opposed the changes because they were unnecessary and possible unconstitutional. He said that the current "probable cause" standard had not caused any difficulties with obtaining FISA warrants, and that the extended 72 hour grace period enabled the government to respond swiftly to terrorist threats.

In 2007, the Protect America Act of 2007 essentially gutted the provisions of the original bill, by allowing the President to wiretap any electronic communication without a warrant, or any exteran oversight. (Text of Protect America Act of 2007 (S. 1927))


The Executive Branch follows the procedures in Executive Orders 12139 and 12949 to implement this act. President George W. Bush has issued other executive orders which still remain secret. Requests for FISA warrants are prepared by the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review.


Several high-ranking officials have testified about the usefulness of FISA for combating terrorism. In particular, they have praised the 72 hour grace period, which they have used hundreds of times since September 11, 2001.


FISA was passed in response to the relevation of Project Shamrock, which was a 25 year effort by the NSA to read every international telegram entering or leaving the United States, including messages to or from US citizens. Senator Frank Church said that the NSA had the "potential to violate the privacy of Americans is unmatched by any other intelligence agency." and if it was ever used domestically, "no American would have any privacy left.... "

Recent Events

In December of 2005, the New York Times reported, and President George W. Bush subsequently admitted that the government was violating this law by conducting warrantless eavesdropping against US citizens. Also see the article Illegal Domestic Surveillance - Bush Circumventing FISA.

External Links

Retrieved from "http://localhost../../../f/o/r/Foreign_Intelligence_Surveillance_Act_of_1978_76dd.html"

This page was last modified 21:38, 22 August 2007 by dKosopedia user Corncam. Based on work by Arthur Smith and dKosopedia user(s) Garrett. Content is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

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