The Protect America Act amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that was passed in 1978 to protect people inside the United States from being monitored by U.S. intelligence without a warrant proving they were agents of a foreign government.

This point is crucial: FISA was never meant to apply to foreigners outside the United States communicating with other foreigners outside the United States.

For 30 years, this was the understanding of the law. But a court case last year said that foreigner-to-foreigner overseas communications now have FISA protections — that is, they require a warrant before they can be monitored — because technology has changed and these non-U.S. communications now technically may pass through U.S. channels in the global telecommunications network.

The result is that for U.S. intelligence to monitor suspected terrorist communications between a Pakistani and an Afghani, they have to go through the time-consuming, bureaucratic procedure of having the attorney general and others approve lengthy affidavits proving that the targets are agents of a foreign power.

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