Secrecy News

Admin Presses for Renewal of FISA Surveillance Authority

The Obama Administration is urging Congress to renew provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act that are set to expire at the end of this year.

“Reauthorizing this authority is the top legislative priority of the Intelligence Community,” wrote Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Attorney General Eric Holder in a February 8 letter to Congress.

One of the key provisions, they explained, would permit the electronic surveillance of entire categories of non-U.S. persons who are located abroad “without the need for a court order for each individual target.”

Under this provision, “instead of issuing individual court orders, the FISC [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court] approves annual certifications submitted by the Attorney General and the DNI that identify categories of foreign intelligence targets.”

“The provision contains a number of important protections for U.S. persons and others in the United States,” according to a background paper attached to the February 8 letter, including limitations on targeting, minimization procedures to exclude information about U.S. persons, and other guidelines on acquisition.

“Failure to reauthorize [this section] would result in a loss of significant intelligence and impede the ability of the Intelligence Community to respond quickly to new threats and intelligence opportunities,” the background paper stated.

Proposed legislative language to enact an extension of Title VII of the FISA Amendments Act was transmitted to Congress by the DNI in a March 26 letter.

The American Civil Liberties Union disputes the adequacy of the FISA Amendment Act’s protections for U.S. persons and is challenging the constitutionality of the Act in a lawsuit that is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.  The ACLU is also asking Congress to “Fix FISA by prohibiting dragnet surveillance, mandating more transparency about the government’s surveillance activities, and strengthening safeguards for privacy.”