A secretive federal court last year approved all of the 1,856 requests to search or electronically surveil people within the United States “for foreign intelligence purposes,” the Justice Department reported this week.
The report (.pdf), released Tuesday to Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader from Nevada, provides a brief glimpse into the caseload of what is known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. None of its decisions are public.
The 2012 figures represent a 5 percent bump from the prior year, when no requests were denied either.
The secret court, which came to life in the wake of the Watergate scandal under the President Richard M. Nixon administration, now gets the bulk of its authority under the FISA Amendments Act, which Congress reauthorized for another five years days before it would have expired last year.
The act allows the government to electronically eavesdrop on Americans’ phone calls and e-mails without a probable-cause warrant so long as one of the parties to the communication is believed outside the United States.
The legislation does not require the government to identify the target or facility to be monitored. It can begin surveillance a week before making the request to the secret court, and the surveillance can continue during the appeals process if, in a rare case, the spy court rejects the surveillance application.