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The FBI inappropriately searched for information on a U.S. senator using an intelligence provision intended for monitoring foreign nationals, a court opinion released Friday shows.
The opinion from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court said that the FBI improperly searched a database for information on an unidentified U.S. senator, state senator, and judge. The FBI conducted the searches under powers derived from Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but the conditions for the searches were not met, the judge said, according to The Hill.
“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,” a court opinion from Judge Rudolph Contreras said.
Section 702 allows allows intelligence agencies to obtain the online communications of foreign nationals without a warrant.
Although the court said that a “a specific foreign intelligence service” was looking into two of the individuals, the FBI was not able to provide proper criteria for the searches as determined by the National Security Division at the Department of Justice.
Information on the judge was searched after he had accused a police chief of civil rights violations.
A “Staff Operations Specialist ran a query using the Social Security number of a state judge who ‘had complained to [the] FBI about alleged civil right violations perpetrated by a municipal chief of police,’” the opinion said.
Contreras said that the FBI had been doing “a better job in applying the querying standard” since the mistakes have been revealed. Previous documentation from the case indicates that Section 702 was misused over 278,000 times to collect information on American citizens.
The opinion was released after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued to make it public. The opinion was from April 2023.
“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. As Congress debates reauthorizing Section 702, these opinions make clear why fundamental reforms are urgently needed,” Patrick Toomey, of the ACLU National Security Project, told The Hill in a statement.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said that the FBI had implemented “substantial reforms” over its use of Section 702.
“Compliance is an ongoing endeavor, and we recently announced new additional accountability measures,” Wray said. “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.”
Section 702, first implemented in 2008, was renewed by then-President Donald Trump in 2018 even after he said the power was linked to the widely discredited Steele Dossier that purported to have evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. After initial skepticism, Trump renewed the powers following a discussion with then-House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).
Intelligence officials have urged lawmakers to renew the powers at the end of the year, but some lawmakers have remained skeptical, especially with concerns over a politicized FBI.