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Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

Definition/Scope: (DHS) The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) established, first, that non-criminal electronic surveillances within the United States were only permissible for the purpose of collecting foreign intelligence and/or foreign counterintelligence. Second, it identified foreign powers and agents of foreign powers as the entities and persons that could be targeted for electronic surveillance. Third, it articulated a probable cause standard that had to be met before an electronic surveillance was permissible. Fourth, the Act established the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts (FISC), one at the district court level for initial review of surveillance applications, and one at the appellate level should the government appeal a district level denial of an application. Finally, the Act established the only circumstances under which an electronic surveillance could lawfully be conducted in the United States for the purpose of collecting foreign intelligence or foreign counterintelligence: pursuant to an order issued by the FISC; or in emergency circumstances, pursuant to Attorney General approval, so long as an application is thereafter made to the FISC within 24 hours. FISA identifies two categories of potential targets for surveillance under FISA. The first category is foreign powers. A foreign power is: a foreign government; a diplomat, other representative or employee of a foreign government; a faction of a foreign nation that is not substantially composed of U.S. persons; an entity openly acknowledged by a foreign government to be directed and controlled by it, or ; a group engaged in international terrorism or activities in preparation therefore. A second category of FISA targets are agents of foreign powers. An agent of a foreign power is: anyone, other than a U.S. person, who acts in the United States as an officer or employee of a foreign power, or; anyone who acts as part of or in support of a foreign power’s efforts to engage in clandestine intelligence gathering activities in the U.S. An agent of a foreign power is also anyone, including a U.S. person, who: knowingly engages in clandestine intelligence gathering activities for a foreign power which activities constitute a violation of U.S. criminal statutes; knowingly engages in sabotage or international terrorism, or activities in reparation therefore, on behalf of a foreign power. For purposes of the Act, a U.S. person is defined as any of the following: a citizen of the U.S.; an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence; an unincorporated association a substantial number of which are U.S. citizens or aliens lawfully admitted for permanent residence; or; a U.S. corporation.

Used For:




Broader Terms:

Department of Homeland Security
Department of Justice

Narrower Terms:

electronic surveillance

Related Terms:

Executive Order 12333
Executive Order 13470
Federal Bureau of Investigation
foreign governments
Intelligence Community
USA Patriot Act of 2001

CALL Homepage >> Thesaurus Last Updated: Sept 17, 2008