Is FISA An Effective Check?

A reader doesn’t think so:

I understand your willingness to stand behind surveillance schemes when they gain court-approval, but hanging your hat on FISA court-approval seems misguided. A quick search through the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s nice table on FISA court applications submitted, accepted, and rejected shows that this is no more than a kangaroo court. Between 1979 and 2012, 33,942 applications were submitted. Of those, a mere 11 were rejected. (The difference between applications proposed and accepted is only 7, but I decided to go with the upper bound they report in their ‘Applications Rejected’ column to give the government the benefit of the doubt.) So the government has a whooping 99.967% batting average in these courts.

Now it could be selection bias going on here, that the government only goes to these courts when they have solid cases. But I doubt these lawyers are so stellar that they have never made clerical errors that invalidate many non-FISA court briefings. If we hope to find a balance between privacy and security, let’s at least have an advocate on the side of privacy who is willing to stand up and say no once in a while.