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A recent memo declassified by the US Department of Justice reveals that the highly secretive US Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court received over 1,450 electronic surveillance requests in 2015, out of which “none” was rejected.

Graphical Representation of FISA Warrants data

Number of FISA Warrants Issued in Past 20 Years


The requests were received on behalf of various US law enforcement agencies including the NSA and FBI to intercept emails and phone calls of users. The number of surveillance requests increased from 1,379 to 1,457, in the past two years alone.

Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court

FISA (Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court) has been working behind closed doors since 1978.  The court handles dedicated electronic surveillance warrants against surveillance of foreign citizens. The electronic surveillance is conducted with the help of Internet Service Providers and Telecommunication companies. Data privacy advocates however consider FISA a “kangaroo court with a rubber stamp” for government surveillance operations.

Former Director of the FBI

FISA Courts were first to authorize controversial state surveillance in the past including surveillance initiatives like PRISM and various mass records collection programs. There have been incidents where surveillance requests have been modified before approval by the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court. In 2015, 80 applications were modified and 19 in 2014, to facilitate surveillance agencies.

The US Department of Justice Memo

Upon studying the US Department of Justice memo we have unearthed the following key aspects that netizens around the world need to know:

  • Over 48,600 national security letter requests were made by the FBI in 2015.
  • A National security letter (NSL) pushes Internet Service Providers and Telecom providers to provide personal customer data including email addresses, browsing histories and subscriber information, sometimes with a gag order to keep the surveillance a secret.
  • The FBI requested for the data of 3,746 individuals including U.S. citizens, immigrants and foreign nationals.
  • 142 surveillance requests were made by the government to access business records, of which all were approved.


National security letters have been into existence since 1970. But their prominence has been increased dramatically after the attack on the United States on 11 September, 2001. Many data privacy advocates and cyber-security experts are worried over National Security Letters since they are often accompanied by indefinite gag-orders, also issued by the Department of Justice.


The US Department of Justice reports these figures to Congress annually, but the latest one is yet to be formally released. You can download & read the report from here.