FISA

    1978

    • Congress Passes FISA (Dec 31)

      The Watergate scandal and the findings of the Church Committee leads Congress to pass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and establish the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The law is meant to prevent intelligence agencies from spying on communication involving US residents without a warrant from the FISA court. The law allows for warrantless surveillance for up to three days in an emergency and for 15 days after a declaration of war.

    2001

    • Prez Authorizes AUMF (Sep 14)

      Three days after 9/11 Congress quickly passes the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) which gives President Bush the power to:
      ". . . use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."
      U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez later claims the AUMF authorized wholesale warrantless wiretapping.
    • Congress Passes PATRIOT Act (Oct 26)

      Congress passes (and renews in 2006) the USA PATRIOT Act, a draconian and far-reaching surveillance law that tramples the civil liberties of U.S. residents. The PATRIOT Act made substantial changes to FISA as well as several other antiterrorism laws. Many of these changes made it easier for law enforcement to obtain the records, emails and phone conversations of innocent Americans with no connection to terrorism, without prior court approval. The government does not ask for expanded warrantless wiretapping power.
    • President Bush Authorizes NSA to Tap Phone Calls and Emails (Nov 30)

      President Bush authorizes (in blatant violation of FISA) the National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept U.S. residents' phone calls and emails without a warrant.

    2004

    • Gonzales Visits Ashcroft's Sick-Bed (Mar 01)

      Then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales goes to the hospital bed of critically ill U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to attempt to persuade him to sign an order extending the illegal spying program, a request that Justice Department official James Comey had refused. Ashcroft also refused and the administration reauthorized the program a day later without Justice Department consent.
    • President Bush Claims He is Getting Warrants (Apr 01)

      During an aggressive campaign for the renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act, President Bush claims that his administration always gets a warrant before it wiretaps U.S. residents, saying, "Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires - a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so."
    • Congress Passes Intelligence Bill (Dec 01)

      Congress passes wide and sweeping intelligence reforms at the urging of President Bush. The reforms included the creation of the position of Director of National Intelligence to coordinate anti-terrorism activities and the broadening of surveillance authorities. Despite these vast modifications to the government's intelligence-gathering powers, not once during this process does President Bush or his administration ask Congress to authorize expanded warrantless wiretapping powers.

    2005

    • NYT Reveals NSA Spying (Dec 16)

      In a groundbreaking article, The New York Times reveals the existence of a vast and illegal NSA spying program. The Times reports that the President authorized the NSA to intercept international phone calls and emails with one end in the U.S. without any warrant, without going to the FISA court, and without probable cause, so long as the NSA believed someone on the phone might be related to terrorism.

    2006

    • ACLU Sues NSA (Jan 01)

      The ACLU files a lawsuit in federal district court in Michigan on behalf of prominent journalists, scholars, attorneys, and nonprofit organizations whose work requires them to communicate by telephone and e-mail with people likely to be targeted under the NSA spying program. The government argues that the case, ACLU v. NSA, should be dismissed, claiming the state secrets privilege to cloak the program in secrecy. The government takes the position that the program, revealed on the front page of the New York Times, is so sensitive that not even a federal court could review it and determine whether it violated the law. The government also takes the position that the President has the power to ignore FISA.
    • Congress Renews PATRIOT Act (Mar 01)

      Congress renews expiring sections of the USA PATRIOT Act. The renewal includes dozens of changes to FISA and adds some reporting requirements to provide for minimal oversight. While insisting on the law's renewal, the administration once again does not seek authority for expanded warrantless surveillance powers.
    • USA Today Reveals Massive Database (May 11)

      USA Today reveals that the NSA has compiled a massive database of U.S. resident's phone records.
    • Judge Rules NSA Spying Illegal (Aug 01)

      A federal district court rules that the NSA's wiretapping of Americans' telephone calls and emails without first obtaining a warrant violates FISA and the constitution and must stop. The government quickly appeals the ruling.

    2007

    • Bush Says He Will Use FISA Court, Maybe (Jan 01)

      The Bush administration announces its illegal spying program will be subject to FISA Court approval, but continues to claim the President has "inherent authority" to engage in warrantless spying whenever he sees fit. The administration then claims the, ACLU's legal challenge is moot and asks for the lawsuit to be dismissed.
    • Appeals Court Overturns Decision (Jul 01)

      In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Court dismisses the ACLU lawsuit, because the plaintiffs could not state with certainty that they had been wiretapped by the NSA.
    • Congress Passes PAA (Aug 01)

      Congress, caving in to political intimidation and fear-mongering by the Bush administration, passes the Protect America Act to allow massive, untargeted collection of international communications - even the communications of Americans - without court order or meaningful oversight by either Congress or the courts. Congress sets the act to expire in six months.
    • ACLU Files with FISC (Aug 08)

      The ACLU, in the first effort of its kind, files legal papers with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) requesting that it disclose recent legal opinions discussing the scope of the government's authority to engage in secret wiretapping of U.S. residents. No entity outside the government has ever litigated before the FISC.
    • FISC Compels Bush Administration (Aug 17)

      In an unprecedented order, the FISC compels the Bush administration to provide reasons why it should not grant the request.
    • Judges Rule Against Gov't (Sep 01)

      The ACLU gains a significant victory in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) when a federal judge rejects the government's broad claims of secrecy over all documents relating to the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program. The court orders the DOJ to provide more substantial justification for its blanket secrecy claims. Also in September, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken finds key USA PATRIOT Act provisions amending FISA to be unconstitutional in the case of Mayfield vs. United States. The case involved unconstitutional FISA surveillance of U.S. citizen and Oregon resident Brandon Mayfield who was erroneously linked to the March 11, 2004 Madrid, Spain bombing. The government subsequently appeals Judge Aiken's ruling.
    • Reports Say NSA Approached Telecoms BEFORE 9/11 (Nov 02)

      The National Journal publishes an article revealing that at least one telecommunications company, Qwest, claimed to have been approached as early as February 2001 (seven months before September 11th) to participate in government-sponsored, warrantless domestic spying.
    • Congress Passes RESTORE Act (Nov 15)

      The U.S. House of Representatives passes the RESTORE Act, which reins in the Protect America Act by providing at least some prior court authorization of surveillance and does not grant retroactive immunity for telecommunication companies that illegally turned over customer records to the NSA.

    2008

    • Senate Passes FISA Amendments Act (Feb 12)

      The U.S. Senate passes the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 which substantially reauthorizes the sunsetting Protect America Act and includes a provision granting retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that illegally turned over customer records to the NSA.
    • House Stands Up To President Bush (Feb 14)

      The U.S. House of Representatives rejects President Bush's political bullying tactics, standing up to threats, intimidation and fear-mongering by the administration by refusing to pass the Senate version of the FISA bill and allowing the Protect America Act to expire.
    • Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Case (Feb 19)

      The U.S. Supreme Court declines to review the ACLU's legal challenge to the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program.
    • Congress Stands Tall Against Admin (Mar 14)

      The U.S. House of Representatives again refuses to bow to the president's scare tactics in the bruising battle over domestic surveillance and passed its own version of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.
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