A report says the FBI conducted millions of potential searches of Americans’ data last year 2022-04-29 12:44:00

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US intelligence officials said Friday that the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted millions of potential searches of US electronic data last year without a court order, a revelation likely to raise eyebrows. Long-standing concerns in Congress About government surveillance and privacy.

An annual report released Friday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence revealed that the FBI conducted as many as 3.4 million searches of US data previously collected by the National Security Agency.

Senior Biden administration officials have said the actual number of searches is likely to be much lower, citing complexities in counting and sorting foreign data from US data. It is not possible to know how many data of Americans the FBI has examined under the program from the report, though officials said it was also certain to be a much smaller number.

The report did not indicate that the FBI’s searches were improper or illegal.

The disclosure of the searches marks the first time that the CIA has published a report, albeit inaccurate, of the FBI’s seizure of US data through a section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that governs certain foreign intelligence collection operations. The section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that authorizes FBI activity, known as Section 702, is set to expire next year.

The report does not allege that the FBI has been routinely searching for US data improperly, although judges have previously reprimanded the office for failing to comply with privacy rules. Officials said the FBI’s searches were vital to its mission to protect the United States from national security threats.

The 3.4 million figure “is definitely a big number,” a senior FBI official said at a news briefing Friday on the annual FBI report on FBI surveillance. “I won’t pretend it isn’t.”

More than half of the reported searches – nearly two million – were related to an investigation into a national security threat that includes attempts by alleged Russian hackers to break into critical infrastructure in the United States. These searches included efforts to identify and protect potential victims of alleged victims. Senior US officials said the Russian campaign.

Officials declined to elaborate on the alleged Russian threat, including whether it was linked to the Russian government or a criminal hacking group. Russia has historically He denied the accusations of piracy United States or other countries.

The number of US data searches does not correlate with the number of Americans whose personal information may have been checked.

An individual’s name, phone number, email addresses, and Social Security number can be searched, sometimes recursively, and each instance of each term will be counted as a search. US information searches can relate to data about US citizens, lawful permanent residents, and US companies. Searches can result in a combination of metadata and the content of collected communications.

One source of the discrepancy between the 3.4 million figure and the potentially much lower amount of data searches for Americans: Sometimes FBI analysts run large searches of hundreds or thousands of terms, and if only one term in the set is related to a US or US entity, it will be All terms considered as potential searches in US data, officials said.

The FBI conducted nearly 3.39 million searches using the identity of a presumed American person from December 1, 2020 to November 30, 2021, according to the report. The number of searches over the previous 12-month period was about 1.3 million.

The searches described in Friday’s ODNI report relate to a large repository of electronic data collected by the National Security Agency under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Section 702 was passed into law in the years following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to enable the United States to spy on non-Americans abroad. The National Security Agency uses the Section 702 program to gather intelligence from international phone calls and emails about suspected terrorists, cyber threats, and other security risks.

Data for Americans is often dumped as well, for example when a foreign spy is communicating with someone in the United States or when two targets abroad are talking about an American.

Some congressional lawmakers have asked the FBI to reveal how often it clicks that data to look at US information, arguing that doing so amounts to a backdoor search of Americans that dispenses with warrant requirements. US intelligence officials have widely defended Article 702 as among the most valuable national security tools at their disposal.

last congress Section 702 was renewed in 2018President Donald Trump then signed the renewal into law after publicly questioning the measure over unfounded fears that it was being used to spy on his presidential campaign. It is due to expire again at the end of next year, and current and former intelligence officials have said they expect a heated political battle.

Senator Ron Wyden (Dr.) said, “Somewhere in all of this overcounting are real numbers of FBI searches, for content and non-content—numbers that Congress and the American people need before re-certification of Section 702.”

The FBI has previously faced scrutiny over its oversight of how authorities access Section 702 data, including a 2018 reprimand from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that found some searches violated Americans’ constitutional privacy rights.

as a response, The FBI imposed new safeguards Aiming to better ensure compliance. This includes a requirement that all searches with 100 or more query terms obtain additional approvals and that analysts actively engage in searching Section 702 data, rather than passively allowing it.

Friday’s report also revealed four cases in the past year in which the FBI, given specific factual considerations about the data search, should have sought approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court before conducting a search and looking into the content of US communications that were produced.

Officials said the FBI has never sought court approval since the requirement was adopted in 2018.

write to Dustin Falls in Dustin.volz@wsj.com

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