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More FISA Orders Were Denied During President Trump's First Year in Office Than in the Court's 40-Year History (zdnet.com) 271

In its first year, the Trump administration kept one little-known courtroom in the capital busy. From a report: A secretive Washington DC-based court that oversees the US government's foreign spy programs denied more surveillance orders during President Donald Trump's first year than in the court's 40-year history, according to newly released figures. Annual data published Wednesday by the US Courts shows that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court last year denied 26 applications in full, and 50 applications in part. That's compared to 21 orders between when the court was first formed in 1978 and President Barack Obama's final year in office in 2016.
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More FISA Orders Were Denied During President Trump's First Year in Office Than in the Court's 40-Year History

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  • by Nutria ( 679911 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2018 @04:46PM (#56502367)

    In its first year, the Trump administration kept one little-known courtroom in the capital busy.

    There's nothing in the story about whether the gov't made more or fewer FISA requests in 2016.

    • is Trump's administration denying more requests a good thing because they're denying bad requests or a bad thing because they're making so many outlandish requests. No real telling since it's a secret court.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        It's not the administration that is doing the denying.

      • by swillden ( 191260 ) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Wednesday April 25, 2018 @05:54PM (#56502759) Homepage Journal

        is Trump's administration denying more requests a good thing because they're denying bad requests or a bad thing because they're making so many outlandish requests. No real telling since it's a secret court.

        Well, only one of the 11 FISA judges has been appointed since Trump took office, and Trump and his administration had no control over the choice -- appointments are made by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, with no executive or Congressional oversight, review or even input. Chief Justice Roberts has appointed all 11 of the current FISA judges. So, it's safe to say that the composition of the court hasn't changed with the administration.

        What has changed is the leadership of the DoJ. So it seems clear that what has changed is the nature of the requests -- or possibly the number, but it would require a massive increase in number of requests to cause this change. My money is on the nature of the requests.

        OTOH, the court rejected nine in 2016, the largest number in any year (until 2017). From 1979 to 2015, there were 12 rejections, in 2016 there were nine, in 2017 there were 26. So the change seems to predate Trump, a little.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          So it seems clear that what has changed is the nature of the requests -- or possibly the number, but it would require a massive increase in number of requests to cause this change. My money is on the nature of the requests.

          The number of requests is actually down (but barely.) The rate of rejections tripled.

        • by HiThere ( 15173 )

          But the real question is:
          "How many requests were accepted in each year?"

          It would also be useful to have access to the nature of the requests, so one could decide whether or not the request was reasonable. But when even the number of accepted requests isn't shown, that may be unreasonable even for wishing.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          It might not be the nature of the requests, but the willingness of the court to "work" with this administration (ie. they stopped rubber stamping all requests and started doing their job being one of the powers).
          But since the land of the free has secret courts, secret policies and secret interpretations of them...

  • because of the nature of the report and court, this is basically worse than no information released.

    is this an example of more judges legislating from the bench in opposition of the cheeto for political reasons? or were the applications legitimately refused? or were they misfiled?

  • Comparison to 2016 (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 25, 2018 @05:20PM (#56502545)

    OK, let's do a little research and look at the actual data. We can get all the reports since transparency was mandated in 2015:

    USCourts Report on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts' Activities [uscourts.gov]

    According to FISA's data, in 2016:
    "The FISC disclosed that it received 1,752 applications in 2016. After consideration by the court, 1,378
    orders were granted, 339 orders were modified, 26 orders were denied in part, and 9 applications were
    denied in full."

    Meanwhile, in the latest report, from 2017, during the first year of the Trump administration:
    "The FISC disclosed that it received 1,614 applications in 2017. After consideration by the court, 1,147
    orders were granted, 391 orders were modified, 50 orders were denied in part, and 26 applications
    were denied in full."

    So what does this tell us? Applications for survellience were actually a bit lower, but denials went from .5% of Obama's FBI to 1.5% of Trump's FBI's requests. Does that mean the requests were of lower quality in 2017? The FISA court was feeling a little chastened by all of the publicity of its usual rubber-stamp policy? Or the FISA court is a bunch of liberal cheeto-haters? Hard to say?

    • by DamnOregonian ( 963763 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2018 @05:29PM (#56502603)
      Or does it mean that 24 orders out of 1600+ is nothing bug fucking line noise?
      • When the full numbers are shown, it seems more it's a big bag of nothing. Just like the doomsayers proclaim that on December 21, 2012 there would be the end of the world because of sun and Earth alignment [youtube.com], the doomsayers were right about the alignment. However the same doomsayers either fail to mention or didn't know that the alignment they mention happens every December 21st and 2012 was not different than any other year.
    • Or it could be that the FBI is investigating trump and the FISA court wants to make damn sure they're on solid ground when they approve an order.

      • And why would the FBI need FISA requests to record Trump's communications? The President's communications are always being monitored by the government.
        • And why would you think Trump is the only person who would be surveilled? He's not the entire organization that ran his election. In fact,19 people besides Trump have been indicted so far in the course of the investigation. It's not unlikely that some of the information used to indict them was obtained through FISA orders.

          • And why would you think Trump is the only person who would be surveilled? He's not the entire organization that ran his election. In fact,19 people besides Trump have been indicted so far in the course of the investigation. It's not unlikely that some of the information used to indict them was obtained through FISA orders.

            None of which you wrote. You wrote Trump specifically. But to address your point, I bring you the example of Michael Flynn. His downfall was that he failed to disclose communications with a Russian ambassador that were being monitored because ALL communications with a Russian Ambassador are being monitored by the NSA, CIA, etc. For someone asking to be head of the National Security Council, Flynn either disregarded or did not know that.

            • Stop pretending that I didn't mean the entire investigation. It's a stupid strawman argument that you're using to try and make yourself feel like you were somehow right about wildly misinterpreting what should have been obvious to you. And it's not working. You're just making yourself look worse with every post.

              • Stop pretending that I didn't mean the entire investigation.

                This what you wrote: "Or it could be that the FBI is investigating trump and the FISA court wants to make damn sure they're on solid ground when they approve an order." You clearly did not write anything of the sort so I am to read your mind and figure out what you meant?

                It's a stupid strawman argument that you're using to try and make yourself feel like you were somehow right about wildly misinterpreting what should have been obvious to you. And it's not working. You're just making yourself look worse with every post.

                So basically you're blaming someone else when you did not write clearly. Also I addressed your point. How do you answer the fact that in the case of Flynn, a FISA request was not needed as the Russian Ambassador is always under surveillanc

                • You're the only person it's not clear to. There's only one FBI investigation of Trump going on and it includes Russian interference in the election. Flynn was stumping for Trump and meeting with the Russian Ambassador, so yes, he was caught up in that investigation.

                  And I'm now done explaining the blindingly obvious to an idiot who insists on trying to find some technicality to make his arguments right. It's clear you aren't going to stop and you aren't willing to accept that you're making a fool of yours

                  • You're the only person it's not clear to. There's only one FBI investigation of Trump going on and it includes Russian interference in the election. Flynn was stumping for Trump and meeting with the Russian Ambassador, so yes, he was caught up in that investigation.

                    My point which you clearly missed or are ignoring is that no FISA request would be required to monitor the Russian ambassador. Therefore, the FBI would not need to be make sure that they are "on solid ground" because the CIA and NSA would have already been monitoring him.

                    But let's look at what we know. The FBI is investigating events that happened before and around November 2016. Please tell me why the FBI needs a FISA request to surveillance people for things that have already happened in the past? You do

    • I'm going to be lazy and ask if anyone's done a statistical analysis to see whether the difference between those numbers is statistically significant. I suppose I could figure it out myself, but as I said I'm going to be lazy on this.

  • here's the history of FISA orders. [epic.org]

    FISA info for 2017:
    1614 orders were made
    1147 orders were approved
    391 orders were approved after being modified
    21 orders were rejected

    This is a non-story.

  • Better stats (Score:5, Informative)

    by leehwtsohg ( 618675 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2018 @05:48PM (#56502723)

    2010: 1511, 0 rejected
    2011: 1676, 0 rejected
    2012: 1789, 0 rejected
    2013: 1588, 0 rejected
    2014: 1379, 0 rejected
    2015: 1457, 5 rejected
    2016: 1485, 34 rejected
    2017: 1614, 26 rejected

    https://epic.org/privacy/surve... [epic.org]

  • Citing both numerators without citing both denominators doesn't mean anything.
  • Very few are ever denied. In fact, if pressed they don't even have to go to court first and can just spy and get FISA approval later. Sometimes this retroactive request is denied, but you know. Emergencies. This happens to various presidents.

    The running joke is that very few are denied, so this headline is idiotic.

    A better headline might, sadly, be, "As with all other presidents, almost every single FISA request is approved."

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