what is the foreign intelligence surveillance act?

All three branches of government have a hand in the surveillance measures enacted to protect Americans from terrorism, but the need for secrecy and formidable legal obstacles have blunted challenges about their legal foundation and constitutionality.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows the interception of electronic communications between foreign targets and people in the United States, was expanded in 2008. It allows national security officials to obtain authorization from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to track suspects for up to one year. The government's actions in the surveillance area are overseen by FISC, composed of 11 federal judges appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. The judges consider the government's surveillance programs and requests, and rarely make their opinions public.

The court approved each of the 1,789 eavesdropping requests it received from the government in 2012, except for one that was withdrawn. The court made modifications in 40 of the requests, according to a report it sent to Congress. The court's chief judge, Reggie Walton, denied that it rubber-stamps requests. In an interview with the Guardian, Walton said: "There is a rigorous review process of applications submitted by the executive branch, spearheaded initially by five judicial branch lawyers who are national security experts and then by the judges."

But Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that courts sometimes make mistakes. "When that happens, the losing party has the right to appeal," she wrote. "That process cannot happen when a secret court considers a case with only one party before it."

Washington Post