A court opinion on Friday revealed that the FBI wrongfully used its 702 surveillance power against a U.S. Senator. Section 702 allows intelligence agencies to obtain and review the online communications of foreign nationals without obtaining a warrant.
The opinion from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court stated that the FBI improperly searched a database for information on an unidentified U.S. senator, a judge, and a state senator. What’s wrong with this picture? This database was not designed to spy on law-abiding Americans.
Information on the judge was searched after he accused a police chief of civil rights violations. Lawmakers being inappropriately searched via Section 702 isn’t necessarily new, either. Rep. Darin LaHood (R-III) said in March that his name was also searched using the tool.
Every time the government conducts a warrantless search for an American’s communications under Section 702 of FISA, it violates the Fourth Amendment.
It’s especially shocking the FBI did this to a member of Congress. https://t.co/RR6Wb30DNt
— ACLU (@ACLU) March 11, 2023
A court opinion from Judge Rudolph Contreras revealed the truth concerning how the FBI has been improperly using the tool. Contreras stated, “In June 2022, an analyst conducted four queries of Section 702 information using the last names of a U.S. senator and a state senator, without further limitation.”
While the court mentioned that a “specific foreign intelligence service” was looking into two individuals, the National Security Division at the Department of Justice said proper search criteria were not met. If proper search criteria cannot be met, FBI employees should not proceed to engage in these searches.
Contreras stated that the FBI had been doing a “better job in applying the querying standard” since these mistakes have been brought to light. Although, documentation from the case revealed that Section 702 was improperly used over 278,000 to collect information on American citizens.
FBI Director Christopher Wray stated that the FBI had implemented “substantial reforms” regarding its use of Section 702. Wray said, “Compliance is an ongoing endeavor, and we recently announced new additional accountability measures.” However, reform is needed to ensure this tool will not continue to be misused.
Patrick Toomey from the ACLU National Security Project told The Hill, “The FBI continues to break the rules put in place to protect Americans, running illegal searches on public officials, including a U.S. senator, and it’s long past time for Congress to step in.”
Communications are collected without a warrant based on the premise that subjects are foreigners abroad. Americans should not be subjected to such an unacceptable breach of privacy. Section 702 will expire at the end of the year, and lawmakers say they will only back its reauthorization with significant reforms.