FISA court approved every warrant request by FBI and NSA in 2015

An annual Justice Department memo issued on Thursday shows that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) approved all 1,457 warrant requests from the NSA and FBI in 2015 to intercept the communications data of both foreigners and U.S. citizens.

In existence since the late 1970s, FISC is in effect a secret judicial arm of the U.S. government that acts to review surveillance requests of federal intelligence agencies, presumably to collect information about foreign spies and enemy combatants.  In the last 36 years, FISC has only rejected 12 of 38,365 total warrant requests.

The memo also revealed that the FBI served 48,642 subpoenas — known as national security letters — in 2015 to data communications companies, forcing them to release private information about individuals which they had on file.

The FBI’s national security letters demanded personal information for 2,053 foreign nationals and 3,746 U.S. citizens and legal immigrants.

In related news, a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) published Monday shows that the NSA and CIA conducted 4,672 warrantless searches of the NSA’s “702” database “concerning a known U.S. person”, in 2015.

“702” refers to a section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), amended in 2008, which allows DNI to collect data on non-U.S. citizens in foreign countries without prior authorization.

The number of searches on “known U.S. person[s]”, which excludes the number of FBI queries due to an exemption written into the USA Freedom Act, has doubled in the past two years.

“The number of back-door searches doubling since last reported shows that warrantless Section 702 surveillance is a significant and growing problem for Americans,” said Constitution Project fellow, Jake Laperruque.

The DNI report also revealed that NSA and FBI alone performed 23,800 metadata searches of the database in 2015.  Statistics from the CIA were unavailable at the time of publication.

While warrantless searches of internet communications — which includes data sent via servers transferring information to and from the United States — may sound borderline illegal, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper argues that it is perfectly legitimate because all the data being searched was previously collected in compliance with the FISA law.

However, privacy advocates such as Sen. Ron Wyden (R-OR) argue that, “If intelligence officials are deliberately searching for and reading the communications of specific Americans, the Constitution requires a warrant.”

Whether or not DNI or a specific intelligence agency like NSA is “deliberately” accessing the private communication data of American citizens, or if their information is simply being caught in a dragnet or bundled with that of a foreigner, is a question that has yet to be answered.

Fourteen members of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Director Clapper on April 22 asking for a report on the exact amount of data is collected on U.S. citizens under Section 702 of FISA.


[Reuters] [ZDNet] [The Intercept] [Politico] [Photo courtesy]