Is the FISA Court more powerful than SCOTUS?
The New York Times has a fairly shocking story about how the FISA Court has built up a body of secret law that has enabled the NSA and other intelligence agencies to gather massive amounts of data on citizens.
The question raised by this revelation is simple: Can the Supreme Court review these decisons? And if not, does this make the FISA Court the last word on our privacy rights?
In more than a dozen classified rulings, the nation's surveillance court has created a secret body of law giving the National Security Agency the power to amass vast collections of data on Americans while pursuing not only terrorism suspects, but also people possibly involved in nuclear proliferation, espionage and cyberattacks, officials say.
The rulings, some nearly 100 pages long, reveal that the court has taken on a much more expansive role by regularly assessing broad constitutional questions and establishing important judicial precedents, with almost no public scrutiny, according to current and former officials familiar with the court's classified decisions.
The 11-member Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISA court, was once mostly focused on approving case-by-case wiretapping orders. But since major changes in legislation and greater judicial oversight of intelligence operations were instituted six years ago, it has quietly become almost a parallel Supreme Court, serving as the ultimate arbiter on surveillance issues and delivering opinions that will most likely shape intelligence practices for years to come, the officials said.
Last month, a former National Security Agency contractor, Edward J. Snowden, leaked a classified order from the FISA court, which authorized the collection of all phone-tracing data from Verizon business customers. But the court's still-secret decisions go far beyond any single surveillance order, the officials said.
"We've seen a growing body of law from the court," a former intelligence official said. "What you have is a common law that develops where the court is issuing orders involving particular types of surveillance, particular types of targets."
In one of the court's most important decisions, the judges have expanded the use in terrorism cases of a legal principle known as the "special needs" doctrine and carved out an exception to the Fourth Amendment's requirement of a warrant for searches and seizures, the officials said.
How nice of the FISA Court to tell us about this "exception" to our Fourth Amendment rights against searches without a warrant. When was our government going to get around to telling us that a super-secret court was redefining the Constitution right under our noses?
Who died and made them the Supreme Court? And if the FISA Court is going to exercise this kind of power without the ability for anyone to challenge their rulings in the Supreme Court, what's the point of having a high court anyway?
A republic...if you can keep it.