FBI Illegally Searched American Citizens’ Data

FBI agent using a laptop. | Image by Dzelat/Shutterstock

The FBI performed unjustified data searches on hundreds of American citizens who either participated in the nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd or attended the protest at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

This revelation came to light in a heavily-redacted Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court opinion that was declassified last Friday.

The court found that the FBI performed thousands of unjustified searches using a foreign intelligence database meant to house intelligence on foreign nationals abroad who are considered possible agents of a foreign power or members of terrorist groups.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) later determined the FBI did not have not enough evidence to justify conducting these searches and was not “reasonably likely” to find evidence of criminal activity.

Furthermore, an FBI analyst also performed a “batch query” of the database on 19,000 donors to an unidentified congressional campaign, citing concerns the campaign was being influenced by foreign actors.

The DOJ later concluded that only eight data “identifiers,” including names and contact information, had any connections to foreign governments.

These searches were performed under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which “permits the government to conduct targeted surveillance of foreign persons outside the United States.”

This provision applies to “foreign persons” but not American citizens, U.S. House Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) noted.

“If the FBI insists on using [Section 702] for routine domestic criminal investigations, without a warrant or probable cause, then perhaps they should not have access to this information at all,” he said in a statement released by the House Judiciary Committee.

“The problem is not that the FBI unlawfully targeted thousands of Americans of any particular political view,” he continued. “They appear to have conducted backdoor searches on Black Lives Matter protestors, January 6th rioters, and everyone in between. The problem is that they unlawfully targeted thousands of Americans. Period.”

Nadler noted that while the FBI claimed to “have instituted new procedures to make this kind of abuse impossible,” it has also “made that promise before.”

The Dallas Express reached out to the FBI for a statement but did not receive one by press time.

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