Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



The investigations of the 9/11 terrorist attacks highlighted a series of lapses in intelligence-sharing within the federal government regarding terrorist operations. One area closely examined by Congress,' the judiciary, and many legal and political commentators is the appropriate scope of intelligence collection within the United States "concerning foreign threats to the nation's security" ("foreign intelligence"). Domestic intelligence collection is a particularly complex sphere of national security as gathering intelligence on American soil requires balancing the privacy rights of individuals guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment against the nation's need to protect itself.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 ("FISA") governs the conduct of electronic surveillance and physical searches carried out for foreign intelligence purposes within the United States. FISA establishes procedures for collecting foreign intelligence information, which are parallel to, and independent of, the conventional law enforcement channels used to secure judicial approval for searches and electronic surveillance. Under FISA, federal investigators submit applications for foreign intelligence surveillance to a secret court that exists for the sole purpose of reviewing government requests to gather information pursuant to the statute.