FISA Surveillance Down, NSL Requests Up in 2008

05.18.09 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

During calendar year 2008, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved 2,083 applications for authority to conduct electronic surveillance and physical search of suspected foreign intelligence and terrorist targets under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, according to a new annual report to Congress (pdf) from the Justice Department.  The Court made substantive modifications to two applications and denied one application.

This is a decrease from calendar year 2007 (pdf), when the Court approved 2,370 applications for electronic surveillance and physical search, modified 86 applications, and denied three (and one “in part”).

The new report, transmitted May 14, 2009, also states that in 2008 the FBI made 24,744 “national security letter” (NSL) requests for information concerning 7,225 different United States persons.  In 2007, according to newly revised figures included in the report, the FBI made 16,804 NSL requests pertaining to 4,327 different United States persons.  National security letters are obligatory demands for information or records, comparable to subpoenas but without judicial oversight.  The scope of such instruments was expanded by a provision of the USA Patriot Act.

The Congressional Research Service discussed “Amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Set to Expire in 2009” in a report that was updated March 16, 2009.