Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

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Minimizing United States Person Information

Under FISA Section 702

After initiating Section 702 collection, Intelligence Community (IC) professionals must analyze the resulting raw data (emails, telephone calls, etc.) to find foreign intelligence information. One of the primary ways they conduct this analysis—both to protect privacy and civil liberties and for efficiency—is by performing queries.

In some ways, queries operate much like an Internet search engine: a trained IC professional conducts a query by entering one or more query terms and reviews the results. Unlike a search engine, however, Section 702 queries are restricted, run only against data that has already been lawfully collected by the government, and are subject to significant oversight.

Specifically, queries of Section 702 data may only be conducted pursuant to special querying procedures that are adopted by the Attorney General, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, and approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). The querying procedures dictate that queries may be conducted only by trained personnel at the NSA, CIA, FBI, or NCTC. Trained personnel at each of these agencies only have access to subsets of Section 702 data that has already been lawfully collected and that they need-to-know in order to accomplish their national security mission.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) only permits the targeting of non-U.S. persons located outside the United States to acquire foreign intelligence information. This does not mean that information concerning U.S. persons is never collected under Section 702. There are generally at least two people involved in a communication, and a Section 702 target may receive an email from a non-targeted U.S. person or call a non-targeted U.S. person on the telephone. Two non-U.S. person targets may also discuss information concerning a U.S. person.

Recognizing that some U.S. person communications will be collected, Congress made Section 702 collection subject to “minimization procedures”—a set of specific procedures designed to “minimize” the acquisition, retention, and sharing (or “dissemination”) of U.S. person information at all stages of the intelligence process, in a manner consistent with the national security purpose of the collection and the Fourth Amendment.

The targeted nature of Section 702 already limits the scope of collection, but the IC employs a variety of technical measures to minimize collection at the acquisition stage to further ensure that only communications that are to or from the Section 702 targets are acquired.

The resulting collection is then routed to access-controlled repositories in which only individuals with specific training on the minimization procedures and a mission-driven need-to-know may review the collected information.

IC professionals use queries and other techniques to focus their review of the collection to the foreign intelligence matter they are working. With limited exceptions, the IC may only retain unreviewed Section 702 collection for five years.

IC elements may only disseminate information concerning a U.S. person for limited reasons, most often because the information is foreign intelligence information or necessary to understand it. For example, if an international terrorist was planning to kill two specific U.S. persons, it would be important to disseminate the enforcement entities to disrupt the plot and protect these potential victims.

The minimization procedures are adopted by the Attorney General, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, and approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The IC released its Section 702 minimization procedures to the public with minimal redactions. These procedures may be found at

Further Reading FISA Resource Library

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