The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was formed in the year 1978 and its aim is to prevent any terrorist act or act that may harm the country. It included the procedure wherein the government was allowed to investigate people who were suspected of any dubious acts or connection. The FISA prescribes the procedures for physical and electronic surveillance and collection of "foreign intelligence information" between "foreign powers" and "agents of foreign powers". This may include American citizens and permanent residents of America who are suspected of being engaged in violating U.S. law or posing a threat to the national security of US. This act was later amended in the year 2001 to include the terrorism in its manifold. The FISA was formed to investigate about political and activist groups which were quite prevalent during the reign of President Nixon. It was enforced with stringent policies in the year 2001 immediately after the September 11 attacks. It was again amended in 2006 and then in 2007 when the US Patriot act was included in it.
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act - The History
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act signed into law by President Carter in 1978. FISA was created to provide judicial oversight to the government to ensure national security by keeping surveillance on foreign entities and individuals in the United States. The FISA was imposed on groups that were engaged in international terrorism and foreign political organizations though it had its limitations when it came to US citizens and corporations that are incorporated in the US. It did safeguard the interest and privacy of the US nationals. This act was formed to protect USA from any potential grave attack or foreign terrorism on America. The FISA gained information and held surveillance on any suspect, who may be an enemy agent or a spy or may have connections with the international terrorist groups. To use this act the government will have to show a probable cause and defend it with some proof.
Electronic surveillance and physical searches
FISA allows surveillance act on any person they suspect of being a foreign spy or an agent. There are two scenarios in which the electronic surveillance is allowed. The first is without a court law. In this the President may authorize the Attorney General to allow the electronic surveillance without a court order. This was allowed only for a year and that too only for foreign intelligence information. The Attorney General will make a certificate of all these conditions under a seal to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The surveillance will be carried off secretly and in case of any evidence being found out will be dealt very strictly.
The other option is through a court order. Using the FISA court the government may seek a court order permitting the surveillance. The probable cause of surveillance of the person requires an approval of the FISA court and the target should be a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power. In addition to this FISA also permits the physical search of the premises, material or property which is being used by a foreign power. The procedure and requirements for physical search are the same as that of electronic surveillance. There should be some evidence to be allowed to investigate a particular person or some suspected links that should be evident before the cort allows surveillance or physical search.
The USA PATRIOT Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001. The title is very special as it also connotes a meaning. USA Patriot Act stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001. This law was enforced after the September 11 attacks and was enforced to curb any further catastrophe of similar nature. The incident that not only shook America but also the world forced the government to enforce more stringent laws which will help them prevent such incidents and help them catch hold of the suspected people. This act reduced the restrictions that were there for the law enforcing agencies, like telephone tapping, e mail follow up, checking of medical, financial and other relevant records. Special focus was given on the financial transactions of suspected people as that will help trace any such dubious acts taking place and also help trace the actual source of such acts. The act also gave the power to deport immigrants who had suspicious actions and were suspected to have terrorist links. The law expanded the definition of terrorism to include domestic terrorism to it fold hence giving a large area to cover.
The act was passed as a unanimous decision in the house of the Congress. No one opposed as at that time it was the need of the hour. With US struck by terror attacks and further threat looming large, the enforcement of this law was the only viable option. The decision was made that this law will stop to be effective by December 2005. However the act was not completely scrapped and in July 2005 the US senate passed a bill that contained quite a few changes in the US Patriot act was again passed in March 2006. It was passed with only a few minor charges and a few additions to the act. The act became more stringent for the person even with the slightest suspicion. It allowed the government to question and investigate people they suspected. This law also invited some criticism as it was unfair on people who unnecessarily became the victim to this law.
The US Patriot act was seen as a precautionary measure and a perfect answer to the concurrent problem of terrorism. The act was not without criticism though. Many though it to be an encroachment in the privacy. Though it was a matter of national security and hence liberties could have been taken. But there were a few cases where the person being followed were found out to be innocent. Hence it gave rise to debate over the fact that how does it ensure that the person being followed is sure to be a terrorist.
US Patriot Act 2007
The US patriot act was amended in the year 2007 again. In July President Bush passed legislation to reform the FISA and eased a few restrictions on surveillance of terrorist suspects. The Protect America Act was then signed and it allowed FISA to authorize the government to obtain personal records of ordinary American citizen form the libraries or Internet service providers. This is what drew a lot of flak from many as this law entitled the government to keep a track on all the details of a person who might now even be a terrorist. This was later amended and the government was directed to show the court a sort of proof they might have which shows any involvement with a foreign country or terror group before an action is taken against him.
The FISA and the US Patriot acts have been there to help US curb terror completely. It might have a few flaws but the larger picture is inclined towards providing a terror free US. The September 11 attacks shook the world and in order to prevent any similar incidence in future the US government has taken such steps. We hope that the FISA helps to prevent such incidence in future and make USA the safest place to live.