By every available measure, the level of domestic intelligence surveillance activity in 2010 increased from the year before, according to a new Justice Department report to Congress on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
“During calendar year 2010, the Government made 1,579 applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (hereinafter ‘FISC’) for authority to conduct electronic surveillance and/or physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes,” according to the new report (pdf). This compares to a reported 1,376 applications in 2009. (In 2008, however, the reported figure — 2,082 — was quite a bit higher.)
And in 2010, the FBI made 24,287 “national security letter” requests for information pertaining to 14,212 different U.S. persons, a substantial increase from the 2009 level of 14,788 NSL requests concerning 6,114 U.S. persons. (In 2008, the number of NSL requests was 24,744, pertaining to 7,225 persons.)
While the 2010 figures are below the record high levels of a few years ago, they are considerably higher than they were, say, a decade ago. There is no indication that intelligence oversight activity and capacity have grown at the same rate.
A copy of the latest report to Congress, dated April 29, was released under the Freedom of Information Act.
A recent report from the Congressional Research Service addressed “Amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Set to Expire May 27, 2011” (pdf). FISA Amendments in the USA Patriot Act were discussed at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on “Reauthorization of the Patriot Act” (pdf) on March 9, 2011, the record of which has just been published. Related issues were discussed in another House Judiciary Committee hearing on “Permanent Provisions of the Patriot Act” (pdf) on March 30, 2011.
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