FBI ‘misused’ digital surveillance tool almost 300,000 times on Jan 6 suspects, others

"Compliance problems with the querying of Section 702 information have proven to be persistent and widespread."


On Friday, a newly unsealed court document revealed that the FBI misused the Section 702 electronic database over 278,000 times between 2020 and 2021, a problem the agency blamed on a misunderstanding between its employees and the Department of Justice lawyers. 

According to The Washington Post, the agency used the database against crime victims, January 6 riot suspects, rioters after the police killing of George Floyd, and 19,000 donors to a congressional candidate. The report comes as lawmakers consider renewing the law the database shares its name with, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The database was built after the September 11, 2001 terror attack when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was enacted in an effort to target foreign intelligence and terrorism. It can be used by the FBI and the National Security Agency (NSA), but only when they believe that it will produce evidence of crimes or for foreign intelligence purposes without a warrant. 

FISA court Judge Rudolf Contreas said he is “encouraged by the amendments to the FBI’s querying procedure,” but added, “nonetheless, compliance problems with the querying of Section 702 information have proven to be persistent and widespread. 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.”

The report notes that one FBI employee ran 23,132 inquiries of Americans after the January 6, 2021 riot at the capital, even though there was no basis to assume the searches would find foreign intelligence information. 

Senior law enforcement officials told the outlet on Friday that the problems found in the report don’t represent the FBI’s current practices. Instead, these problems were discovered in part due to Department of Justice audits and have been remedied, they said.

"We’re not trying to hide from this stuff, but this type of noncompliance is unacceptable," a senior FBI official said. "There was confusion historically about what the query standard was," said another senior law enforcement official.

The revelations come as House lawmakers attempt to show that the FBI is biased against conservatives and supporters of former President Donald Trump. The law is set to expire at the end of this year and this will make it hard for lawmakers to garner support to renew it. 

Also this week, the Durham report was released, revealing the FBI;s attempt to remove Trump from office. In September 2016, a Clinton connected Lawyer provided false data to try to prove that the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia to sway the election. The FBI used the lie to get a FISA warrant to spy on a political opponent. The report concluded that the FBI failed to uphold its mission.

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