A Simple Solution to Searching FISA Court Public Filings

Since Edward Snowden’s leaks about U.S. government surveillance programs, public attention has focused on the courts that grant the authority to monitor communication of American citizens. Eric Mill’s recent post on Hacker News highlighted the obstacles involved in obtaining any sort of information from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Specifically, the official public docket of the court consists of scanned, unsearchable documents thrown together on one page.

The Court invented their public docket on the fly back in June, and I’m very glad it exists, but from a public records standpoint, it’s a mess. The Court publishes scanned image PDFs that are impossible to search through electronically. Some PDFs show up in multiple dockets, their publication times are only discernible from a clerk’s physical stamp, and the links are unpredictable. It’s not even clear whether the links or the site itself are permanent.

I began thinking about the simplest way to at least make these documents searchable, and considered creating a custom web application to OCR and index the docket. However, a much faster, cleaner solution presented itself — Google Custom Search. Below is a custom search engine that will search all PDFs in the docket that are indexed by Google.

Search FISA Court Public Docket:

Feel free to embed the custom search engine wherever you see fit:

<script>
(function() {
var cx = '015317449821808293020:d07qbdm2huu';
var gcse = document.createElement('script');
gcse.type = 'text/javascript';
gcse.async = true;
gcse.src = (document.location.protocol == 'https:' ? 'https:' : 'http:') +
'//www.google.com/cse/cse.js?cx=' + cx;
var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0];
s.parentNode.insertBefore(gcse, s);
})();
</script>
<gcse:search></gcse:search>

A Simple Solution to Searching FISA Court Public Filings