back to article US surveillance court declined less than 2 per cent of applications

The US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) has published its annual report, revealing that less than 2 per cent of surveillance applications made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) were declined in 2016. As part of the USA Freedom Act of 2015, statistical information on FISC is published annually …

  1. Dave 15

    The land of the ....?

    Frankly the USA is as bad as the UK. Both are considerably worse than the supposedly diabolical regimes in Russia and its satelites. More spying on the citizens of USA and UK than the Stasi, KGB et al managed on theirs... far far more.

    It is nothing short of a disgrace.

    And then to blame terrorism is so far from believable it might as well be the far side of the sum. How many attacks? Nearer zero than makes no odds, and no its not due to some impressive performance by the security services it is because of a lack of threat, TBH acts COULD be done without alerting anyone but they aren't, whole targets are ignored for decades at a time, not believable if there were a real threat.

    And anyway, the USA is in large part to blame for most of the few issues there are, funding the IRA for decades, funding BinLaden etc etc etc and providing training - very often with the help of the British government not to mention the unconditional support of Israel even when it is doing wrong (which is not all the time folks).

    TBH readers should read 1984, it explains it all. Unable to create a good honest reason for the imbalance of wealth, unable to provide jobs for people the politicians are turning to the oldest tricks in the book, blame outsiders, back the blame up with measures and incidentally use those to control any one stupid enough to point out the fraud the leaders are committing.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The land of the ....?

      recommend 1984, but also read Brave New World. Which is more of a problem.

      thing is, it's as incorrect to say "this didn't happen because of surveillance" as to say "this didn't happen because no one tried". No one has any data on anything that didn't happen, and the guess as to why is pure speculation.

      When everyone knows government and Media decide what is "newsworthy" or what is not to be reported, how does one then claim "nothing happened"?

      Or in a world where a flag bearing, religious oath screaming individual throws a manifesto before running down crowds of the "children of Satan", and the press and government go out of their way to tell you that it *wasn't* a religiously motivated terrorist incident you have even less certainty. Add to the "some kid hacks into his school to download grades" and Government swears up and down that the kid *is* a terrorist, you can pretty much give up on knowing what's really going down.

      So less "control by suppression" a la Orwell but "control by distraction" a la Huxley.

      And BTW, you might want to open your history a little longer. Just about every sh*thole America interfered with, was already completely clusterf**ked by European powers beforehand. Middle East thanks to England. Add in the Soviets/Russians after that. East Asia, thank you France. Africa, European powers again cutting and drawing the lines and creating the hate. America's arrogance is in thinking there's any way to fix Europe's best efforts at exploitation. Wasn't too many decades ago that European powers gave up and abandoned it all. Best not to forget lest y'all start doing it again.

      1. asdf

        Re: The land of the ....?

        1984 gets more copy due to the hard repression coming from the top but honestly Brave New World scares me more as it seems public complacency, laziness and herd mentality are the bigger repression danger in the first world. Regardless of the party you support in the US plenty of examples of their incompetence are abound to realize why the ship living on Wall-E is a bigger danger than big brother.

      2. DJO Silver badge

        Re: The land of the ....?

        recommend 1984, but also read Brave New World.

        Animal Farm might be worth reading too - All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The land of the ....?

          You can probably add Clockwork Orange to the list. Not for the surveillance but for the "rehabilitation" of criminals. I suspect there are more than a few tory MPs who think that sort of thing would be just fine and that the book was overly worried about side-effects (which they would deem irrelevant since criminals are sub-humans anyway).

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: The land of the ....?

          "Animal Farm might be worth reading too"

          I heard that David Cameron read that one and grew a great affinity for Napoleon as a result.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The land of the ....?

        "Middle East thanks to England."

        In which France was a major player - with Italy and Spain if you include North Africa.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The land of the ....?

        "European powers again cutting and drawing the lines and creating the hate"

        Once you get into Africa then you have African regional powers with their own history of colonisation. The Europeans were late into that game. It should also be remembered that Turkey was the power centre of the Ottoman Empire that ruled the Middle East for several centuries.

      5. jimdandy

        Re: The land of the ....?

        You missed the part about Standard Oil and American interests fucking with the middle East during WW1. Go and read the book "Lawrence IN Arabia" - and get a really good look at why are where we are today.

    2. fidodogbreath Silver badge

      Re: The land of the ....?

      Both are considerably worse than the supposedly diabolical regimes in Russia and its satelites.

      I agree that both the US and UK have gone overboard on surveillance, but the statement quoted above is not even remotely true.

      The US and UK still have free press; Russia, not so much. Neither the US nor the UK uses state security services to execute journalists and regime critics, at home and abroad; Russia does both routinely, and indeed has done so many times in the UK. Neither country shoots at people who try to leave, as East Germany routinely did. I could go on.

      So yes, both governments are imperfect. Both contain individuals who make bad decisions out of fear of making a mistake, and individuals who are driven by a lust for power and control. However, that is true of every country in the world; it does not make either of us worse than Berlin-Wall-era Soviet bloc dictatorships.

      1. Red Bren
        Big Brother

        Re: The land of the ....?

        "The US and UK still have free press; Russia, not so much."

        In Russia, the state has too much power over the media. In the UK the "free" press has too much power over the state. And I put "free" in quotes as the UK press is predominantly owned by a small group of tax exiles.

    3. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      Re: Dave 15 Re: The land of the ....?

      Can't decide whether you're just a poor troll or actually baaaahlieve what you posted. I mean, it's just silliness from start to finish, but then agan plenty of UK Labour members did vote for Jeremy Corbyn.....

      For a start, if you had actually read anything about George Orwell, you would know that Animal Farm and 1984 were written after Orwell witnessed the vicious nature of Communusm firsthand, when the Russian NKVD and Spanish Communists spied on and then massacred their allies, Orwell's friends and fellow Anarchists and Socialiats, during the Spanish Civil War. So, when Yank-haters like yourself blather on about Orwell during your Pootie-kissing posts, it simply displays your ignorance.

      1. Bernard M. Orwell

        Re: Dave 15 The land of the ....?

        Well hi MB! Wondered where you'd got to.

        I seem to recall having this debate about FISA with you a good while back.

        You were wrong then and you're still wrong now. You can keep spitting nonsense in a trump-like manner or, for a change, you can admit that you're wrong about FISA's good intentions and sensible practices and quietly depart.

  2. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit

    On the other hand

    Such a low rejection rate could mean that almost all the requests submitted are fair, proportionate and reasonable.

    Now, where's that nurse with my pills?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: On the other hand

      "... fair, proportionate and reasonable."

      Presumably there's also a distinct lack of opposition arguments. Seeing how one entire desk is missing.

      The EFF or similar should have permanent presence to provide balance. Under NDA except allowed to summarize overall findings.

      Otherwise it *is* a useless exercise.

    2. fidodogbreath Silver badge

      Re: On the other hand

      On the other other hand...

      How egregious does a "request" have to be in order to be rejected?

  3. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    "702 of FISA,..critics have alleged..unconstitutionally target the communications of US nationals,"

    Because it has?

    "Sorry we can't filter out US nationals, we've hoovered up too much stuff to do that."


    "We can run a query on all the stuff we have hoovered up to which includes if they are US nationals"

    "No we can't provide a count of how many of those entries exist in the database. It's too complicated."

    9/11 was 17 years ago. It's time the hysteria it engendered is put to rest, along with Sect 702.

    1. fidodogbreath Silver badge

      Re: 702 of FISA

      9/11 was 17 years ago. It's time the hysteria it engendered is put to rest

      It's vital to understand that the current surveillance regime was not a response to 9/11 hysteria. The USA PATRIOT Act was already written, and had been for some time.

      The PATRIOT Act would have happened one way or another. Because it is fundamentally anti-democratic, it could not have passed in the normal course of legislative business. It required a crisis so that it could be enacted without examination or debate, and skeptics could be shouted down as unpatriotic.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        "It required a crisis so that it could be enacted without examination or debate,"


        It's more like like a trojan than a piece of legislation, infecting and mutating multiple other pieces of legislation and twisting them to help it.

        This is indeed a data fetishests wet dream.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reality check

    The number should likely be under 1% but PC police want the world to believe that it's unreasonable for potential crims or terrorists to be surveilled. The clueless who believe that U.S. and UK authorities spy on their people more than Russia are naïve fools destine to be hoodwinked.

    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      Re: AC Re: Reality check

      The real clue is in the number of applications, 1,752 - with the US population standing at about 350 million it is immediately obvious that the NSA is not "spying on us all" as certain posters here really want to baaaaaaaahlieve.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: AC Reality check

        What's the scope of those?

        For all we know, one of them could have been "Entirety of Facebook's database", another "All phonecalls between the US and Europe" etc.

        As we don't know how many individuals were potentially affected, we know nothing.

  5. tom dial Silver badge

    Before getting all upset about, and drawing mostly negative conclusions from, the fact that the FISC rejects fewer than one in fifty warrant requests, it would be meaningful to ask how often other federal courts, and state courts, reject warrant applications. I would be quite surprised if the rate in other courts exceeded 2%. Warrant applicants know the requirements, the courts - all of them - know the requirements, and there are set procedures and forms used to ensure and verify that the requirements are met. Rejection of a warrant request is an outlier event.

    The same is true of the presumed need to have a public representative before the FISC. It is not the norm for subjects of warrant requests to other courts to be represented by either personal or general counsel, despite that fact that a warrant to toss a residence or place of business is at least as invasive. It is the job of the court, as a formally independent branch of the government, to ensure that it issues warrants only on probable cause, based on sworn statements. The FISC is not different from other courts in this respect.

    FISC proceedings are secret. So, in practical terms, are the warrant issue activities of other courts. The existence of a warrant normally becomes known when it is executed, and warrants are challenged, when they are, at execution time, by declining to perform the required action and appealing to a court for cancellation, or at trial, in motions to deny admissibility of any evidence their execution brought to light.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Of course it's a "rubber stamp" it's a court without representation behind closed doors.

    The ones that were rejected were probably because the paperwork was out of order, or missing pages because the fax machine jammed.

  7. StuartMil

    Headline statistics are meaningless

    "less than 2% of requests rejected" could mean that most things are just "rubber stamped" or that 98%+ of the requests are genuine and valid.

    It's like the annual Police statistics in the run up to Christmas... "5 times more people charged with drunk driving compared to last year". It's meaningless without context, details or comparison.

    In the Police case - how many stops/checks did they carry out this time compared to last time. If it was the same number of checks then a 5x increase charges is a bad sign, but if they carried out 10x the number of checks, then a 5x increase in charges means that less people, as a percentage, were drinking and charged. But the headlines will still say "5x" and present it as bad, when it's actually a reduction in the offending rate.

    It's the same with "secret courts". Without some transparent and objective review of the details of the requests and reasons for approval, or refusal, the headlines seem meaningless. Of course, we'll never see those details.

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: Headline statistics are meaningless

      Indeed so. Presenting percentage statistics without the relevant context of raw numbers makes them essentially meaningless.

      In this case, however, the article included the raw number information, so one could conclude, for example that about one in five requests was either partly or wholly denied or approved with modifications, and just short of four in five were granted in full. And the article stated the total for the year as 1752, roughly one for every 185,000 people in the US, or around 0.0005% of the population..

  8. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    Do they share staff with the Patent Office?

    It appears they must have at least the same agile supply chain for rubber stamps..

  9. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    1752 warrants == 1752 people ??

    Are we really sure about that?

    Or is that 1752 ISPs?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 1752 warrants == 1752 people ??

      Good question, and the answer is in the document under the heading "Orders modified":

      "changing the description or specification of a targeted person, of a facility to be subjected to electronics surveillance or of a property to be searched"

      Add to that their fetish for mass surveillance which neatly matches your post icon (or you could be a Drupal volunteer :) ), and I think the answer is "as large a scope as they can possibly get away with".

      Ergo, 1752 Tier One ISPs..

  10. Oengus

    0.5% declined

    I suppose the rubber stamp needs to be re-inked occasionally... maybe the partial approvals were when the ink was getting low...

  11. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    "of a facility to be subjected to electronics surveillance "

    Now if that "facility" is IDK, the main offices of an ISP or a backbone hub site...

    No I don't think that means only 1752 people were being spied on.

    By a very wide margin.

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