We wondered whether Obama has justification for saying that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court "is transparent." So we decided to investigate.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was established in 1978 to provide oversight of a system that many observers believed had been widely abused by prior administrations. National Security Agency requests for warrants must have certification from Justice Department officials that the target of surveillance is either a foreign power or the agent of a foreign power. These applications are heard by federal judges who serve on the court on a rotating basis.
All hearings and decisions are conducted in secret. The public disclosure of the court's activities is sharply limited, consisting of two sets of statistics sent annually in a letter sent to Congress—applications for surveillance or physical searches, and applications for business records.