I did a radio show tonight on FISA and the history of it which was initiated in 1977. The information is below. It has been modified, and regulations loosened following 911 terrorist attacks in 2001. This was partly due to the definition of a terrorist organization which had to be defined as "non-state actors"...those acting outside the traditional boundaries of the nation-state or identity with a particular nation. Bush stretched the legal boundaries of the FISA act and now the Obama admin is under heat for doing the same due to leaks by Snowden and the fiasco last week of Verizon allowing the feds to review personal data of customer phone accounts.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was introduced on May 18, 1977, by Senator Ted Kennedy and was signed into law by President Carter in 1978. The bill was cosponsored by the nine Senators: Birch Bayh, James O. Eastland, Jake Garn, Walter Huddleston, Daniel Inouye, Charles Mathias, John L. McClellan, Gaylord Nelson, and Strom Thurmond.
The FISA resulted from extensive investigations by Senate Committees into the legality of domestic intelligence activities. These investigations were led separately by Sam Ervin and Frank Church in 1978 as a response to President Richard Nixon’s usage of federal resources to spy on political and activist groups, which violates the Fourth Amendment. The act was created to provide Judicial and congressional oversight of the government's covert surveillance activities of foreign entities and individuals in the United States, while maintaining the secrecy needed to protect national security. It allowed surveillance, without court order, within the United States for up to one year unless the "surveillance will acquire the contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party". If a United States person is involved, judicial authorization was required within 72 hoursafter surveillance begins.
Bush administration warrantless domestic wiretapping program
Main article: NSA warrantless surveillance controversy
The Act came into public prominence in December 2005 following publication by the New York Times of an article that described a program of warrantless domestic wiretapping ordered by the Bush administration and carried out by the National Security Agency since 2002; a subsequent Bloomberg article suggested that this may have already begun by June 2000.
For most purposes, including electronic surveillance and physical searches, "foreign powers" means a foreign government, any faction(s) or foreign governments not substantially composed of U.S. persons, and any entity directed or controlled by a foreign government. §§1801(a)(1)-(3) The definition also includes groups engaged in international terrorism and foreign political organizations. §§1801(a)(4) and (5). The sections of FISA authorizing electronic surveillance and physical searches without a court order specifically exclude their application to groups engaged in international terrorism. See §1802(a)(1) (referring specifically to §1801(a)(1), (2), and (3)).
The statute includes limits on how it may be applied to U.S. persons. A "U.S. person" includes citizens, lawfully admitted permanent resident aliens, and corporations incorporated in the United States.
The code defines "foreign intelligence information" to mean information necessary to protect the United States against actual or potential grave attack, sabotage or international terrorism.
In sum, a significant purpose of the electronic surveillance must be to obtain intelligence in the United States on foreign powers (such as enemy agents or spies) or individuals connected to international terrorist groups. To use Fisa, the goverment must show probable cause that the target of the surveillance is a foreign power or agent of a foreign power. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act established a court of 11 rotating federal judges living around D.C. area. These judges are the same ones who rule on warrants the gov't seeks in domestic criminal cases. If we trust them to rule in routine matters, would we not trust them with greater matters?