1978 October 25

FISA Enacted: National Security Spying Okayed


The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was one of the important consequences to the investigations into abuses by the intelligence agencies by the Senate Church Committee (created on January 27, 1975) and the House Pike Committee (created on February 19, 1975). The investigations exposed unauthorized spying on Americans by the FBI, CIA, and NSA. In an effort to control and limit NSA spying, FISA created a special court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), to approve wiretapping warrants in the area of national security, and presumably to prevent violations of the rights of American citizens.

FISA ignited a major controversy when it was revealed on December 16, 2005, that President George W. Bush had secretly ordered the National Security Agency (NSA) to violate the law and eavesdrop on Americans.

A major scandal erupted on June 5, 2013, with the publication of the first of a series of stories of NSA spying, based on documents stolen and leaked by former NSA contract employee Edward Snowden. The Snowden documents revealed that the 2005 exposé had underestimated the extent of NSA spying and also that FISA law had failed to effectively curb illegal spying by the NSA.

On June 2, 2015, Congress for the first time revised the procedures of the FISA Court in the direction of better protection of civil liberties. The law required FISA to declassify some of its important decisions, which represented a step in the direction of greater transparency for the court. It also permitted, for the first, private individuals to appear before the court to argue in favor of protecting privacy in particular cases.

Read about President Bush’s abuse of NSA spying: Eric Lichtblau, Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice (2008)

Learn more about FISA at the ACLU web site: https://www.aclu.org/blog/tag/fisa

Learn more about FISA at the Electronic Privacy Information Center: http://epic.org/privacy/terrorism/fisa/fisc.html

Get the full story of the Snowden revelations: Luke Harding, The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man (2014)

Check out the FISC website: http://www.uscourts.gov/uscourts/courts/fisc/index.html

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