Here's a look at what you need to know about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Facts: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was created in 1978.
It exists to oversee and authorize activities carried out under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA).
About the Court: Before the Patriot Act, foreign intelligence had to be a primary purpose of the investigation. Now, foreign intelligence has to be a significant purpose.
The Court meets in a high security room, on the 6th floor of the Justice Department.
All proceedings of the court are secret.
The court has two parts: a lower court and a Court of Review.
The lower court has a rotating panel of 11 Federal District Court judges. At least three of the judges must live within 20 miles of the District of Columbia.
Currently the judges are: (Source: FAS) James Boasberg Rosemary Collyer Raymond Dearie Claire Eagan Martin Feldman Thomas Hogan Mary McLaughlin Michael Mosman F. Dennis Saylor Susan Webber Wright James Zagel
The Court of Review consists of three judges.
The judges are: William Bryson (Presiding), Federal Circuit Jose Cabranes (Second Circuit) Richard Tallman (Ninth Circuit)
The Chief Justice of the U.S. appoints all of the judges.
Timeline: October 26, 2001 - President George W. Bush signs into law the USA Patriot Act, after the attacks of September 11th.
May 17, 2002 - FISC turns down the Justice Department's request to allow intelligence agents and criminal prosecutors more freedom to work together on cases. According to the New York Times, this is the first time in its 24-year history that the court turned down a request from the Justice Department.
May 17, 2002 - The court identifies 75 cases in which the FBI and Justice Department submitted false information in order to gain approval for surveillance. All of the cases occurred during the administration of Bill Clinton.
August 22, 2002 - The Justice Department appeals the ruling handed down by the lower court in May.
September 9, 2002 - The Court of Review meets for the first time in its history. The judges hear arguments from Solicitor General Theodore Olson that the USA Patriot Act of 2001 has expanded the scope of FISA and allows for greater cooperation between intelligence and law enforcement agencies. No other opinions are heard, as per the rules of the Court.
September 10, 2002 - The Senate Judiciary Committee calls on the Court of Review to make public all transcripts from the September 9 hearing, as well as the Court's decision. Senator Patrick Leahy, head of the Judiciary Committee, says, "We need to know how this law (the Patriot Act) is being interpreted and applied.''
November 2, 2002 - The Court of Review overturns a key court ruling which had placed limits on the government's use of wiretaps targeting suspected spies and terrorists.
February 12, 2003 - The ACLU, along with a coalition of other civil liberties groups, asks the Supreme Court to overturn new, more lenient standards for wiretaps in foreign intelligence investigations. It would have been the first time for the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of such wiretaps, known as FISAS for the act they are named after - the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
March 25, 2003 - The Supreme Court turns down the request by the ACLU without comment.
December 15, 2005 - The New York Times reports that President Bush signed a presidential order in 2002 allowing the NSA to eavesdrop on Americans and others in the US (on international calls) without obtaining warrants through FISC. The newspaper reports that up to 500 people in the U.S. are being monitored at any one time and between 5,000 and 7,000 people overseas are being wiretapped.
December 16, 2005 - In his live weekly radio address, President Bush acknowledges that he has authorized wiretaps without warrants but defends the action as "fully consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authorities."
December 19, 2005 - At a news conference, President Bush defends the warrant-less wiretapping by saying, "This program is carefully reviewed approximately every 45 days to ensure it is being used properly. Leaders in the United States Congress have been briefed more than a dozen times on this program. And it has been effective in disrupting the enemy while safeguarding our civil liberties. This program has targeted those with known links to al-Qaida. I've reauthorized this program more than 30 times since September the 11th attacks, and I intend to do so for so long as the nation faces the continuing threat of an enemy that wants to kill our American citizens."
December 19, 2005 - Lower court judge James Robertson resigns, via letter to Chief Justice John Roberts. According to the Washington Post, the resignation is in protest of President Bush's actions concerning the warrant-less wiretaps.