FISA legislation

The amendments of the FISA

Definition of the foreign intelligence surveillance act

This refers to the act that was passed by congress in 1978. It establishes the processes that should take place for requesting judicial authorization for foreign intelligence and to make the foreign surveillance court intended to increase U.S counterintelligence; apart from the usual law enforcement surveillance.

This FISA legislation came as a result of the fact that there were abuses of the United States person’s privacy rights by some parts of the US government.  These ‘abuses’ came about as part of the government’s effort to combat alleged threats to national security.

Since the establishment of the foreign intelligence surveillance act in 1978 there have been quite a number of alterations until the act finally established the only situation where electronic surveillance can be used legally in the U.S for the purpose of garnering foreign intelligence /counterintelligence. These include:

  1. proceeding after an order that is issued by the FISC
  2. In emergency situations where pursuant to the Attorney General is approved under the situation where the application is made to the FISC within twenty four hours.

This act acknowledges two categories of possible targets for surveillance under the act. The first classification is foreign powers. This refers to:

  1. A foreign government
  2. A diplomat or any other representative or employee of a foreign government
  3. A fraction of a nation that is foreign and is not heavily composed of U.S citizens
  4.  A body that is acknowledged openly by a foreign government to be supervised and controlled by it
  5. A group that is involved in international terrorism or activities that would support international terrorism.

The second classification of the foreign intelligence surveillance act targets is agents that represent foreign powers. These refer to:

  1. Anyone that is in the united States office that is not a United states citizen but poses an as officer or employee of a foreign power
  2. Anyone who acts as a part of or is in support of the efforts of a foreign power to gather information about activities that only concerns the United States.

An agent of a foreign power also includes anyone (including a person of United States nationality) who:

  1. Knows what clandestine is and still gathers such activities to share with a foreign power which is against the constitution of the criminal statutes of the United States
  2. Intentionally engages in sabotage (and) or international terrorism to support a foreign power that claims reparation

For the sole purposes of this act a person of the United States is referred to as:

  1. A citizen of the United States
  2. Someone who is of a different nationality but was admitted for permanent residence
  3. A united states corporation

International terrorism as defined by the act refers to:

  • Any activity that involves acts or an act that is dangerous to the lives of humans that are in violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any state. If it is also committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or any other state.
  • Any act that appears to intimidate or compel a civil population influencing the policies of a government
  • Any act that will affect the conduct of a government by assassination or kidnapping

Expansion of the foreign intelligence surveillance act fisa authority

Physical Searches – eight years ago, congress expanded the FISA to physical searches and electronic surveillance. This gives permission to the FISC to carry out searches when necessary but up on probable cause. Some of these include:

  • If the target of the search is the agent of a foreign power or a foreign power themselves
  • If the grounds and building to be searched contains foreign intelligence information
  • If the grounds and building to be searched is owned, used possessed by or is in transit by a foreign power or such an agent.

The new adjustments to the FISA have given the president a limited amount of authority where physical searches are concerned.  No longer does the president have much access to the authority of confirming that physical searches are done to acquire foreign intelligence without a court order.

Particularly, when acting through the Attorney general, the president may be able to give authorization for searches that are up to a period of one year.  These searches give authorization for premises to be searched if it is being used by a foreign power.

  1. Pen Registers/Trap and Trace Devices – in 1998 there was another amendment to foreign intelligence surveillance act of 1978.  This permitted the installation and the usage of pen register and trap trace devices when investigating international terrorism and clandestine intelligence activities. If one should want to acquire the installation of such a device then an application must be submitted to the Attorney general or a specific attorney. It should also be proven that any information that is acquired should be an ongoing investigation that will protect against international terrorism or clandestine activities.

This new legislation is not limited to the tracking of telephone calls but to any other form of electronic communication e.g. emails.

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