May 03, 2011
CRS - Amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Set to Expire May 27, 2011
"The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) provides a statutory framework by which government agencies may, when gathering foreign intelligence investigation, obtain authorization to conduct electronic surveillance2 or physical searches,3 utilize pen registers and trap and trace devices, or access specified business records and other tangible things. Authorization for such activities is typically obtained via a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), a specialized court created to act as a neutral judicial decision maker in the context of FISA. Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Congress enacted the USA PATRIOT Act, in part, to “provid[e] enhanced investigative tools” to “assist in the prevention of future terrorist activities and the preliminary acts and crimes which further such activities.” That act and subsequent measures amended FISA to enable the government to obtain information in a greater number of circumstances. The expanded authorities prompted concerns regarding the appropriate balance between national security interests and civil liberties. Perhaps in response to such concerns, Congress established sunset provisions which apply to three of the most controversial amendments to FISA."