There are two groups specifically appointed with the task of ensuring that the government doesn't exceed its mandate in its push to fight terror activity and other crime. The first is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret court comprised of judges with heavy background in prosecution. The second is a civilian panel which the president is meeting with for the first time today. Feel better?
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)
We've outlined the work of the FISC before. Before the NSA or FBI can gather Americans' phone metadata or electronic communications from foreign terror suspects, the government must present its case to the FISC. (The FISC almost always approves them, albeit after a back-and-forth process involving what Robert Litt of the Director of National Intelligence Office this week called an initial "read copy" of the proposal.)
The FISC is comprised of eleven judges, all of whom also sit on other benches. FISC Presiding Judge Reggie Walton, for example, is a member of the D.C. District Court, nominated by George Bush. He, like all FISC judges, sits for a seven-year term. This year, as Reuters notes in its look at the body, the FISC has had 14 members, after some termed out and were replaced. Reuters also notes of the composition: "Twelve of the 14 judges who have served this year on the most secret court in America are Republicans and half are former prosecutors."
For the rest of the story: http://www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/2013/06/meet-16-people-responsible-protecting-your-privacy/66473/