Secretive US review court backs warrantless surveillance

wiretappingBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews |
The US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) is a panel of Federal Judges tasked with overseeing requests by counterintelligence agencies for surveillance of suspected foreign intelligence agents operating inside the US. It operates in total secrecy and rarely turns down a request for a surveillance warrant –it usually rejects less than 1% of all requests each year. Even in rare instances when it does reject a warrant or two, another body, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (FISCR) re-examines the rejected cases and usually ends up granting them to the counterintelligence agencies that have requested them. Last Thursday, FISCR resorted to a near-unprecedented action: it published a redacted copy [.pdf] of a legal decision it handed down last August. The decision concerned a challenge by an unnamed telecommunications provider to a request for a surveillance warrant by a US counterintelligence agency (probably the FBI). The decision comes down strongly in support of warrantless wiretapping of suspected foreign intelligence agents when “national security” is at stake. FISCR’s legal opinion does not affect the warrantless wiretapping program by the National Security Agency (known as STELLAR WIND), which targeted US citizens (and not suspected foreign intelligence agents) in the years following 9/11. Nevertheless, it is interesting –to say the least– that the secretive court decided to declassify a copy of its decision in support of warrantless surveillance right at the time when the change of guard is taking place in Washington. Its justification was, apparently, that the declassification of the document was “in the public interest”.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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