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Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, Conference Report, October 5, 1978

As Congress considered legislation to oversee executive intelligence operations, a conference committee resolved House and Senate differences on key provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The resulting bill, passed by both houses and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter on October 25, 1978, provided the first clear guidelines for federal use of electronic surveillance.

Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, Conference Report, October 5, 1978

Foreign and Domestic Spying

After allegations of domestic spying by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) surfaced in the 1970s, public demand grew for an investigation of federal surveillance operations. In 1975 the Senate established the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, headed by Senator Frank Church of Idaho. The Church Committee’s reports exposed abuses and led to legislation governing domestic and foreign surveillance—most notably, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. House and Senate permanent select committees established at that time now oversee U.S. intelligence.

The root cause of the excesses . . . has been failure to apply the wisdom of the constitutional system of checks and balances to intelligence activities. Our experience as a nation has taught us to place our trust in laws, and not solely in men.

Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations, Foreign and Military Intelligence, April 1976