# Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

The Foreign Intelligence Suveillance Act (FISA) is a piece of legislation that permits digital suveillance of foreign powers, and those associatd with foreign powers. The act also created the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which is the primary method of authorization and oversight of mass surveillance programs.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is codified in 50 U.S.C. § 1881a (opens new window).

# Section 702

Section 702 is the most important part of FISA, and it is the section most often referenced by agencies that conduct mass surveillance operations. The section establishes a set of norms that govern the collection of foreign intelligence.

Foreign Intelligence Suveillance Act, Section 702

(a) Authorization. The Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence may authorize jointly, for a period of up to 1 year from the effective date of the authorization, the targeting of persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States to acquire foreign intelligence information.

(b) Limitations. An acquisition authorized under subsection (a)

  1. may not intentionally target any person known at the time of acquisition to be located in the United States;
  2. may not intentionally target a person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States if the purpose of such acquisition is to target a particular, known person reasonably believed to be in the United States;
  3. may not intentionally target a United States person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States;
  4. may not intentionally acquire any communication as to which the sender and all intended recipients are known at the time of the acquisition to be located in the United States; and
  5. shall be conducted in a manner consistent with the fourth amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

While the law does aim to restrict domestic data collection, stating that programs cannot “intentionally” target U.S. citizens or violate the Fourth Amendment, the law allows intelligence agencies to target foreigners in a way that incidentally collects the data of U.S. citizens.

The website will outline the government's potential to collect data on U.S. citizens and incidents where they have already violated constitutional protections.


Edward Snowden talking about U.S. surveillance and how foreign intelligence turned into domestic data collection. [2]

# Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

The Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court (FISC) is a branch of the U.S. federal courts system tasked with handling classified FISA requests. The FISC, unlike typical federal and local courts, hears their cases behind the wall of national security; all transcripts, rulings, and court orders are sealed and classified to the general public until the Director of National Intelligence decides to declassify a document. This allows FISA cases to not only circumvent Sixth Amendment rights, in the case of U.S. citizens, but it also establishes a broad set of hidden legal precedents.

In recent years, several FISC ruilings were declassified and thus became open to public inspection. As the branch of government responsible for upholding the law and providing oversight, the role of FISC is extremely important. Over time, the FISC created and upheld precedents that fundamentally change U.S. constitutional law, including an exception to the Fourth Amendment.

# Sources

  1. FISA Amendments Act, 122 Stat. 2436 (2008), https://www.congress.gov/bill/110th-congress/house-bill/6304/text (opens new window).
  2. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden: 'I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things'. The Guardian, 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8F99BT8QAA (opens new window).