A court document released Friday afternoon revealed that the FBI improperly used a digital surveillance tool on everyday Americans over 278,000 times from 2020 through 2021.
According to a report from the Washington Post, the agency used the Section 702 electronic database against January 6 victims, crime suspects, and 19,000 donors to a Congressional candidate. The Section 702 database is managed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and can be accessed by the FBI and NSA. The FBI is only permitted to access the database if they suspect information from foreign intelligence agencies can be uncovered.
The FBI frequently violated the three-part standard articulated by the government,” wrote FISA Court Judge Rudolf Contreas. “In October 2018, the Court concluded that ‘the FBI’s repeated non-complaint queries of Section 702 information’ precluded findings that its Section 702 querying and minimization procedures, as implemented, satisfied the definition of ‘minimization procedures’ … and were reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”
Breaking: FBI searched massive spying database improperly in targeting Jan 6 protestors. FBI also used spy database to investigate 19,000 donors to congressional candidate. Even leftist rioters targeted. The database contains digital and other information collected on foreign… pic.twitter.com/uU0OUfD17T
— Tom Fitton (@TomFitton) May 19, 2023
“The Court cited as a contributing factor in FBI’s non-compliance a ‘lack of common understanding within FBI and the National Security Division of the U.S. Department of Justice of what it means for a query to be reasonably likely to return foreign-intelligence information or evidence of crime,’” he added.
In total, the court determined roughly 300,000 abuses between 2020 and early 2021. The report notes that one FBI employee ran 23,132 inquiries on American citizens following the January 6 Capitol protests, even though they had no reason to suspect they had ties to foreign governments.
According to the Washington Post, the bureau has blamed the abuses on a “misunderstanding” as to what the standards for accessing the database were. “We’re not trying to hide from this stuff, but this type of noncompliance is unacceptable,” a senior FBI official told the outlet. “There was confusion historically about what the query standard was,” said another law enforcement source.
Judge Contreras concluded that the FBI’s abuses were widespread and could lead to loss of access for certain employees.
“Nonetheless, compliance problems with the querying of Section 702 information have proven to be persistent and widespread,” Contreras wrote. “If they are not substantially mitigated by these recent measures, it may become necessary to consider other responses, such as substantially limiting the number of FBI personnel with access to unminimized Section 702 information.”