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According to a new declassified ruling from the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), FBI personnel systematically abused National Security Agency (NSA) mass surveillance data in both 2017 and 2018. The 138-page ruling, which dates back to October 2018, was only unsealed 12 months later in October 2019. It offers a rare look at how the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been abusing the constitutional privacy rights of U.S. citizens with alarming regularity. The court ruling is also a stinging rebuke to the FBI’s overreach of its ability to search surveillance intelligence databases.
In 2017 alone, the FBI conducted over 3.1 million searches of surveillance data, compared to just 7,500 combined searches by the CIA and NSA.
That is what makes the uncovered FBI abuses so troubling from a privacy perspective. Over the past two years (and perhaps even longer), the FBI was essentially able to go on “fishing expeditions” to check out the emails or other online communications of U.S. citizens without getting a warrant in the first place.
As might be expected, the FBI has agreed to reform its procedures and to eliminate unconstitutional data queries. That’s a good first start, but with Section 702 of FISA still in effect until 2024 (when it will be reviewed again), it’s quite likely that the intelligence agencies will simply find new workarounds to the system.