The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was enacted in 1978 as an attempt of the American Government to reveal and prevent threats to national security. FISA regulates processes of foreign intelligence surveillance including authorization procedures. Still, there are some controversial aspects to discuss related to FISA procedures for American citizens or issue of extraordinary rendition.
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The Basic Concepts of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
After some amendments, FISA comprises such concepts as the authorization of electronic surveillance, application of pen registers as well as trap and trace devices, physical searches, and business records for the purpose of gathering foreign intelligence (“50 U.S. Code chapter 36,” n.d.). Electronic surveillance procedures are provided by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). The authorization for foreign agents’ electronic surveillance can be obtained by the Department of Justice after the application to FISC. Pen registers and trap and trace devices are used for obtaining foreign intelligence information during investigations not involving the US citizens or to “protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities” (“50 U.S. Code chapter 36,” n.d., §1842). Physical searches usually include revealing property or premises, which belong to or are used by the foreign power or its agents. Finally, access to some business records is allowed “for foreign intelligence and international terrorism investigations” (“50 U.S. Code chapter 36,” n.d., §1861).
FISA Procedures for Communications Between American Citizens
Initially, FISA procedures are allowed only if they are used to obtain foreign intelligence information from communications “exclusively between or among foreign powers” (Abrams, 2012, p. 4). Nevertheless, in case a United States person (whether a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident alien) is involved and their foreign intelligence communications are in focus, there is a specific procedure established by the FISA. First of all, approval by a special secret court should be obtained. The law, which allows spying on foreigners by the US intelligence agencies, does not protect American citizens from the accidental collection of information from e-mail communication. This issue causes active debates (Ward, 2018). The focus is on section 702 of FISA, which does not allow intentional surveillance of the US citizens. Still, the battle of national security versus individual privacy is not finished yet.
Extraordinary Rendition Against Individuals Suspected of Terrorism
Extraordinary or irregular rendition is a practice of “seizing suspected individuals abroad” and “transferring them, without legal process, to another often-distant location” (Abrams, 2012, p. 248). The program of extraordinary rendition is supported by the American Government and the President. Moreover, a number of countries all over the world agreed to cooperate (Cordell, 2017). On the one hand, this program is a necessary step in preventing terrorist attacks and punishing the guilty. Nevertheless, the absence of any legal processes to prove the guilt can lead to punishing the wrong people. Moreover, I believe that actions of the government should follow the necessary legal procedures, while extraordinary rendition frequently involves tortures, which I consider unacceptable.
On the whole, FISA has become a useful and productive tool in the attempts of the United States to protect the country against the interference of foreign governments and their agents. Collecting foreign intelligence is also helpful in preventing terrorist attacks and revealing other potential threats. Still, some aspects such as involvement of the American citizens create issues for debates against the ethical character of FISA procedures.
Abrams, N. (2012). Anti-terrorism and criminal enforcement (4th ed.). St. Paul, MN: Thomson Reuters.
Cordell, R. (2017). The U.S. carried out extraordinary rendition flights from 2001-2005. Here are 15 more countries that helped. The Washington Post. Web.
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Ward, A. (2018). The House voted to allow the NSA to keep spying on Americans. Vox. Web.