About the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

About the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was established in 1978 when Congress enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which is codified, as amended, at 50 U.S.C. §§ 1801-1885c. The Court sits in Washington D.C., and is composed of eleven federal district court judges who are designated by the Chief Justice of the United States.  Each judge serves for a maximum of seven years and their terms are staggered to ensure continuity on the Court.  By statute, the judges must be drawn from at least seven of the United States judicial circuits, and three of the judges must reside within 20 miles of the District of Columbia.  Judges typically sit for one week at a time, on a rotating basis.

Pursuant to FISA, the Court entertains applications submitted by the United States Government for approval of electronic surveillance, physical search, and other investigative actions for foreign intelligence purposes.  Most of the Court’s work is conducted ex parte as required by statute, and due to the need to protect classified national security information. 

Additional information concerning the operation of the Court can be found at: Letter to Chairman Leahy, Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate July 29, 2013