POLITICS

FISA Court: We Only Approve 75 Percent Of Government Warrants Without Changes

10/15/2013 06:12 pm ET
AP

The secret surveillance court that's been stung by accusations of serving as a government "rubber stamp" in the wake of Edward Snowden's revelations released a pair of letters on Tuesday detailing how often it approves the government's warrants without modification.

As critics of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court have noted time and again, the secretive judicial body grants the government approval on 99 percent of its surveillance warrants, which are supposed to focus on foreign targets.

But in identical letters addressed to Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the court's chief judge, Reggie Walton, highlighted the fact that the court forces "substantive changes" to 24.4 percent of the government's applications before approving them.

"That does not include, for example, mere typographical corrections," he added.

Since even that number means the court approves 75 percent of warrants without modification, it is unlikely to impress the court's detractors.

In a striking sign of how the public's attitude toward surveillance and terrorism has shifted since Snowden's revelations, Walton's letter strikes a markedly different tone from what one of the court's previous chief judges, Royce Lamberth, said in 2007. Pushing back against the George W. Bush administration's claims that the court wasn't acting quickly against terrorism, Lamberth emphasized the court's willingness to approve almost all of the government's warrants.

"The courts can respond in times of national crisis, and I think the courts have to, and we did," he said then.

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