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CRS: Reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act

Author: Edward C Liu
April 8, 2013

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The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) provides a statutory framework by which government agencies may, when gathering foreign intelligence information, obtain authorization to conduct wiretapping or physical searches, utilize pen registers and trap and trace devices, or access specified business records and other tangible things.

On December 30, 2012, President Obama signed H.R. 5949, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012, which extends Title VII of FISA until December 31, 2017.

Reauthorizations of expiring provisions of FISA have been an annual occurrence in Congress since 2009. Prior to 2012, the legislative debate and reauthorizations largely dealt with three amendments to FISA that are commonly linked to the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (USA PATRIOT Act). Most recently, in 2011, these three provisions were extended until June 1, 2015. For a more detailed discussion of these three provisions, see CRS Report R40138, Amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Extended Until June 1, 2015, by Edward C. Liu.

In contrast, the reauthorization debated and passed in 2012 deals with Title VII of FISA, as added by the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. Title VII is only tangentially related to the subjects of the previous years' debates in that they are amendments to the same statute. Therefore, the legislative activity in prior years should be conceptually separated from the current debate and legislation that would address the expiration of Title VII of FISA at the end of this year.

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