Monday 24 July 2023

FBI improperly used warrantless surveillance powers on US senator and other state officials, court documents reveal

 Court documents released Friday revealed that the FBI improperly used its anti-terrorism surveillance powers on a United States senator, a state senator, and a state judge.

Once again, the FBI is being accused of abusing Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which grants the agency the authority to spy on non-U.S. individuals living abroad.

According to the FBI, Section 702 is an “indispensable tool” that allows the bureau to “protect against national security threats.” However, the agency has repeatedly been accused of abusing its powers to spy on Americans.

In May, it was revealed that the FBI improperly implemented Section 702 powers to gather intelligence on “133 individuals arrested in connection with civil unrest and protests” between May 30 and June 18, 2020. In total, the bureau was accused of surveilling Americans more than 278,000 times in the fiscal year ending November 2021, according to a court filing. 

At the time of the findings, a spokesperson speaking on behalf of FBI Director Christopher Wray described the agency’s “errors” as “completely unacceptable.”

Despite the repeated improper use, Wray has maintained that Section 702, which is set to expire by the end of the year unless a new resolution is passed to extend the powers, is a “critical” tool necessary to “fight against foreign adversaries.” 

“We take seriously our role in protecting national security and we take just as seriously our responsibility to be good stewards of our Section 702 authorities. Compliance is an ongoing endeavor, and we recently announced new additional accountability measures. We will continue to focus on using our Section 702 authorities to protect American lives and keeping our Homeland safe, while safeguarding civil rights and liberties,” Wray previously stated.

On Friday, it was revealed that the agency used Section 702 to conduct improper searches for information linked to an unnamed U.S. senator, a state senator, and a state judge.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court claimed that the FBI conducted searches of “sensitive query terms,” including those related to American public officials and candidates, The Hill reported.

“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,” the opinion stated.

The targeted individuals did not meet Section 702’s requirements.

The American Civil Liberties Union slammed the FBI for conducting the searches.

“These disturbing new revelations show how Section 702 surveillance, a spy program the government claims is focused on foreign adversaries, is routinely used against Americans, immigrants, and people who are not accused of any wrongdoing,” said the ACLU’s National Security Project deputy director Patrick Toomey.

“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,” he added. “As Congress debates reauthorizing Section 702, these opinions make clear why fundamental reforms are urgently needed.”

Following the release of Friday’s court documents, Wray stated that the bureau has made “significant improvement in the FBI’s Section 702 querying compliance.”

A spokesperson for the FBI told the Daily Caller News Foundation, “It is important to note neither the U.S. Senator nor the state senator were surveilled, and no new information was collected on either of them.”

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