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CRS — Privacy: An Overview of Federal Statutes Governing Wiretapping and Electronic Eavesdropping

November 16, 2012

Privacy: An Overview of Federal Statutes Governing Wiretapping and Electronic Eavesdropping (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

This report provides an overview of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). ECPA consists of three parts. The first, often referred to as Title III, outlaws wiretapping and electronic eavesdropping, except as otherwise provided. The second, the Stored Communications Act, governs the privacy of, and government access to, the content of electronic communications and to related records. The third outlaws the use and installation of pen registers and of trap and trace devices, unless judicially approved for law enforcement or intelligence gathering purposes.

FISA consists of seven parts. The first, reminiscent of Title III, authorizes electronic surveillance in foreign intelligence investigations. The second authorizes physical searches in foreign intelligence cases. The third permits the use and installation of pen registers and trap and trace devices in the context of a foreign intelligence investigation. The fourth affords intelligence officials access to business records and other tangible items. The fifth directs the Attorney General to report to Congress on the specifics of the exercise of FISA authority. The sixth, scheduled to expire on December 30, 2012, permits the acquisition of the communications of targeted overseas individuals and entities. The seventh creates a safe harbor from civil liability for those who assist or have assisted in the collection of information relating to the activities of foreign powers and their agents.

This report includes the text of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as well as appendixes listing the citations to state statutes that correspond to various aspects of ECPA. The report is available in an abridged form without footnotes, attributions to authority, the text of ECPA or FISA, or appendixes found here as CRS Report 98-327, Privacy: An Abbreviated Outline of Federal Statutes Governing Wiretapping and Electronic Eavesdropping, by Gina Stevens and Charles Doyle. CRS Report R41733, Privacy: An Overview of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, by Charles Doyle, replicates portions of this report. Related CRS reports include CRS Report R42725, Reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act, by Edward C. Liu, and CRS Report R40138, Amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Extended Until June 1, 2015, by the same author.

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