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Date Published: 10/01/2018

A FISA Primer- Everything You Didn’t Know, You Didn’t Know

Electronic surveillance represents the most important foreign intelligence collection tool available to the U.S. government. Correspondingly, the ability to surveil constitutes one of those activities most susceptible to abuse by a government against its citizens.

For years, electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes was considered an exclusively Executive Branch authority, and every president from Franklin Roosevelt to Richard Nixon authorized its use. When serious abuses by U.S. intelligence agencies were revealed during congressional hearings held in the aftermath of Watergate, Congress reacted by passing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which, for the first time, subjected foreign intelligence electronic surveillance conducted in the United States to a statutory regimen that included approval by a newly created Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Today, there is more discussion, and controversy, about FISA than at virtually any other time in its history. This program is going to discuss the evolution of the use of electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence, the abuses that led to the passage of FISA, the expansion of FISA authorities in the aftermath of 9/11 and how they work, and what has put FISA in the spotlight today.

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