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What is FISA?

Turn on the news lately and you will see/hear the term FISA, but it's not new. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 or FISA, allows surveillance and collection of "foreign intelligence information". It's supposed to be between "foreign powers" and "agents of foreign powers" suspected of espionage or terrorism. FISA has been amended often and sure to evolve in the next couple years. Here's some info: 

  • The court is made up of 11 federal judges, serving 7-year terms and selected by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. 
  • Almost all FISA applications are approved. Apparently if you take the time to fill out the paperwork it's a done deal. 
  • Do government agents need to demonstrate that a commission of a crime is imminent to utilize FISA? Nope.
  • FISA prohibits surveillance of or production of business records regarding a U.S. person based solely on First Amendment activities. Well, in theory, but again, words on paper can be neatly written to circumvent such issues.

Why is FISA important in today's political environment? A good question should be... Can adversarial political information even be part of a FISA application? Or, is it the duty of the opposite political party to research the opposition? If there is politically motivated material in the FISA application it usually is mentioned in the application, but it might not be in specificity. But does it matter? Nearly all FISA applications are granted, so it's technically moot, right? Basically, if the government wants to spy on you, it most often does, with the permission of the court. This is not a new concept. If the surveillance/ investigation finds naughty business, then is it worth it, even if the reason or reasons for the warrant were on shaky legal ground? The debate will undoubtedly be played out in the media, chat rooms, dinner tables, social media, and the courts.