FBI Abused Spy Law 280,000 Times In a Year

The FBI misused surveillance powers granted by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) over 278,000 times between 2020 and early 2021 to conduct warrantless searches on George Floyd protesters, January 6 Capitol rioters, and donors to a congressional campaign, according to a newly unclassified court opinion. The Register reports:

On Friday, the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court made public a heavily redacted April 2022 opinion [PDF] that details hundreds of thousands of violations of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) — the legislative instrument that allows warrantless snooping. The Feds were found to have abused the spy law in a “persistent and widespread” manner, according to the court, repeatedly failing to adequately justify the need to go through US citizens’ communications using a law aimed at foreigners.

The court opinion details FBI queries run on thousands of individuals between 2020 and early 2021. This includes 133 people arrested during the George Floyd protests and more than 19,000 donors to a congressional campaign. In the latter, “the analyst who ran the query advised that the campaign was a target of foreign influence, but NSD determined that only eight identifiers used in the query had sufficient ties to foreign influence activities to comply with the querying standard,” the opinion says, referring to the Justice Department’s National Security Division (NSD). In other words, there wasn’t a strong enough foreign link to fully justify the communications search.

For the Black Lives Matter protests, the division determined that the FBI queries “were not reasonably likely to retrieve foreign intelligence information or evidence of a crime.” Again, an overreach of foreign surveillance powers. Additional “significant violations of the querying standard” occurred in searched related to the January 6, 2021 breach of the US Capitol, domestic drug and gang investigations, and domestic terrorism probes, according to the court. It’s said that more than 23,000 queries were run on people suspected of storming the Capitol.

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