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The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA), 50 USC § 1801 et seq., authorizes electronic surveillance of telephone, email, and Internet communications and physical searches of property for the purpose of gathering intelligence on foreign powers or their agents. Widely used to gather intelligence on terrorism and espionage, since the September 11, 2001, attacks, FISA has been the primary legal basis for widespread surveillance, collection, and analysis of the electronic communications of millions of Americans. This entry describes the formation of FISA, the process in which FISA applications are submitted and reviewed, how FISA relates to other U.S. surveillance programs, and opposition and legal challenges to FISA.

Enacted in 1978 after the Watergate scandal, Congress debated for 2 years in formalizing legal standards for ...

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