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FISA court doc shows FBI looked for domestic terrorists without warrants, report

The FBI’s warrant-free queries were related to criminal investigations including those on domestic terrorism.

Updated: April 27, 2021 - 3:12pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

The FBI has without court orders looked through troves of National Security Agency foreign communications for information on American "racially motivated violent extremists," according to a news report based on a recently declassified report. 

The agency conducted the reviews despite being warned several years ago by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves warrants for such investigations, that such inquiries were constitutionally alarming, according to the Daily Beast

The FBI’s warrant-free queries, known as backdoor searches, were related to criminal investigations including those on "domestic terrorism involving racially motivated violent extremists." 

The court's Judge James E. Boasberg found what he referred to as "apparent widespread violations of the querying standard."

Seven FBI field offices were implicated in violations, according to a November 18, 2020 FISA Court opinion declassified Monday and signed by Boasberg, the Daily Beast also reports. 

An FBI analyst once ran a multi-search-term "batch query" on Americans "in connection with predicated criminal investigations relating to domestic terrorism" that returned 33 foreign-surveillance results, the Daily Beast also reports.

The expansion of surveillance in 2008, known as Section 702, is largely based on permitting NSA to intercept communications from suspected terrorists, the U.S. has only designated foreign entities as terrorists, not domestic ones. 

In an opinion released in 2019, the FISA Court warned the FBI that its backdoor searches were potentially unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment, which protects people on U.S. soil against unreasonable government searches and seizures, also according to the Daily Beast.  

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