Here are some more details on the record of the FISA Court (the Court established in 1978 by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act).
According to this table compiled from DOJ statistics at the EPIC website, the FISA Court did not reject a single warrant application from its beginning in 1979 through 2002. In 2003 it rejected four applications. In 2004, the number was again zero.
So, in a quarter century, the FISA Court has rejected four government applications for warrants.
Only, it’s not quite that simple. Take the four rejected applications from 2003.
About one of those rejections the offficial DOJ report says …
In one case, the Court issued supplemental orders with respect to its denial, and the Government filed with the Court a motion for reconsideration of its rulings. The Court subsequently vacated its earlier orders and granted in part and denied in part the Government’s motion for reconsideration. The Government has not appealed that ruling. In 2004, the Court approved a revised application regarding this target that incorporated modifications consistent with the Court’s prior order with respect to the motion for reconsideration.
About another of the four the same report says …
In another case, the Court initially denied the application without prejudice. The Government presented amended orders to the Court later the same day, which the Court approved. Because the Court eventually approved this application, it is included in the 1724 referenced above.
The report also notes that during 2003, the Court “made substantive modifications to the government’s proposed orders” in 79 applications out of 1727 applications made and 1724 approved.
The previous year, in 2002 …
Two applications were “approved as modified,” and the United States appealed these applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, as applications having been denied in part. On November 18, 2002, the Court of Review issued a judgment that “ordered and adjudged that the motions for review be granted, the challenged portions of the orders on review be reversed, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s Rule 11 be vacated, and the cases be remanded with instructions to grant the United States’ applications as submitted…”
In 2004, the number of approved warrants with “substantive modifications” was 94 out of a total of 1758.
2003 is where the change comes.