Two New Judges Appointed to Intelligence Court

05.27.11 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court has named two new federal district court judges to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to replace two others whose term had expired.  The FIS Court is responsible for reviewing government applications for electronic surveillance and physical search under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The new appointments are Judge Jennifer B. Coffman of the Eastern District of Kentucky, and Judge F. Dennis Saylor of the District of Massachusetts.

Both judges were appointed for a seven year term effective May 19, 2011, said Sheldon L. Snook, Esq., the Administrative Assistant to the Chief Judge of the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

They replace outgoing FIS Court members Judge Dee Benson and Judge Frederick J. Scullin, Jr. whose term on the Court ended May 18.

“At least one of these [FIS Court] judges is available at all times–24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year–for the purpose of reviewing government applications to use FISA authorities and, if those applications are sufficient, approving them by issuing an order,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein this week.

“During calendar year 2010, the Government made 1,579 applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for authority to conduct electronic surveillance and/or physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes,” according to the latest Justice Department report to Congress on implementation of the FISA.

The jurisdiction of the FIS Court has also been modified by statute in recent years.  “The FISA Amendments Act, adopted in July 2008, made it so that FISA orders for surveillance in the U.S. of targets reasonably believed to be abroad no longer have to be obtained,” observed Greg Nojeim of the Center for Democracy and Technology.  “As a result, a significant amount of surveillance that used to be reflected in the FISA court order numbers isn’t reflected in them any more.”