Here's some background information about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was created in 1978.
It exists to oversee and authorize activities carried out under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA).
About the Court
Before the Patriot Act (2001), foreign intelligence had to be a primary purpose of the investigation. Now, foreign intelligence has to be a significant purpose.
The court meets in a high security room, on the sixth floor of the Justice Department.
All proceedings of the court are secret.
The court has two parts: a lower court and a Court of Review.
The lower court has a rotating panel of 11 Federal District Court judges. At least three of the judges must live within 20 miles of the District of Columbia.
May 17, 2002 - The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court turns down the Justice Department's request to allow intelligence agents and criminal prosecutors more freedom to work together on cases. According to the New York Times, this is the first time in its 24-year history that the court turned down a request from the Justice Department.
May 17, 2002 - The court identifies 75 cases in which the FBI and Justice Department submitted false information in order to gain approval for surveillance. All of the cases occurred during the administration of Bill Clinton.
August 22, 2002 - The Justice Department appeals the ruling handed down by the lower court in May.
September 9, 2002 - The Court of Review meets for the first time in its history. The judges hear arguments from Solicitor General Theodore Olson that the USA Patriot Act of 2001 has expanded the scope of FISA and allows for greater cooperation between intelligence and law enforcement agencies. No other opinions are heard, as per the rules of the court.
September 10, 2002 - The Senate Judiciary Committee calls on the Court of Review to make public all transcripts from the September 9 hearing, as well as the Court's decision. Senator Patrick Leahy, head of the Judiciary Committee, says, "We need to know how this law (the Patriot Act) is being interpreted and applied.''
November 2, 2002 - The Court of Review overturns a key court ruling which had placed limits on the government's use of wiretaps targeting suspected spies and terrorists.
December 15, 2005 - The New York Times reports that Bush signed a presidential order in 2002 allowing the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on Americans and others in the US (on international calls) without obtaining warrants through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court . The newspaper reports that as many as 500 people in the US are being monitored at any one time, and between 5,000 and 7,000 people overseas are being wiretapped.
December 16, 2005 - In his live weekly radio address, Bush acknowledges that he has authorized wiretaps without warrants but defends the action as "fully consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authorities."
December 19, 2005 - At a news conference, Bush defends the warrantless wiretapping, "This program is carefully reviewed approximately every 45 days to ensure it is being used properly. Leaders in the United States Congress have been briefed more than a dozen times on this program. And it has been effective in disrupting the enemy while safeguarding our civil liberties. This program has targeted those with known links to al-Qaida. I've reauthorized this program more than 30 times since September the 11th attacks, and I intend to do so for so long as the nation faces the continuing threat of an enemy that wants to kill our American citizens."
December 19, 2005 - Lower court judge James Robertson resigns, via letter to Chief Justice John Roberts. According to the Washington Post, the resignation is in protest of Bush's actions concerning the warrantless wiretaps.
August 17, 2006 - Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, strikes down the NSA warrantless wiretapping program, saying that it violates free speech and privacy rights.
January 17, 2007 - The Bush Administration announces that it will allow the court to oversee its domestic surveillance program and will seek the court's permission before eavesdropping. This reverses the position held by the administration since the secret wiretapping program was revealed in 2005.
August 5, 2007 - Bush signs into law the Protect America Act of 2007, which updates the Foreign Surveillance Act of 1978, but only for a period of six months. The new law gives the attorney general or the director of national intelligence the authority to approve surveillance of suspected terrorists overseas, bypassing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court .
June 5, 2013 - The British newspaper The Guardian publishes a top secret FISA court order requiring Verizon to turn over millions of its customers' telephone records to the National Security Agency. According to the report, the order was requested by the FBI and gives the NSA blanket access to the phone records of millions of Americans.
January 17, 2014 - President Barack Obama calls on Congress to authorize establishment of a new panel of outside advocates to participate in "significant cases" before the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that handles intelligence collection issues.
June 2, 2015 - Obama signs the USA Freedom Act, which includes a number of FISA court reforms. FISA court decisions will be declassified, as per the law, and an expert panel will be established to advise the court on civil liberties, technology and other matters. Under the new rules, investigative agencies must get FISA court authorization to access metadata from telecommunications companies. The USA Freedom Act allows the NSA to collect phone records for a limited six-month transitional period.
April 12, 2017 - The Washington Post reports that the FBI and the Justice Department obtained a warrant from a FISA court judge to monitor President Donald Trump's former campaign adviser, Carter Page, as part of its investigation into possible ties between Trump's campaign and Russia.
September 18, 2017 - CNN reports that US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election. Surveillance began in 2014 after the FBI began investigating Washington consulting firms working for Ukraine's former ruling party and was discontinued in 2016 due to lack of evidence. A new FISA court warrant was obtained after the FBI began investigating ties between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives.
March 28, 2018 - The Justice Department's internal watchdog announces that it has launched a probe into the department and the FBI's handling of warrant applications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
July 21, 2018 - The FBI releases a redacted version of its previously classified foreign surveillance warrant application on Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.
August 19, 2020 - Former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith formally pleads guilty to changing text in an email when working to renew the surveillance application of Page in 2017. He admits to one charge of altering an email to another official in 2017 that said Page wasn't a previous government source, when he had been one.
April 19, 2021 - The ACLU and other groups ask the Supreme Court to consider whether a special court that reviews government requests for electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes must disclose significant opinions that came after 9/11. The filing marks the first time the Supreme Court has been asked to resolve whether the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court must make its secret opinions public -- subject to redactions.
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