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FBI improperly used surveillance tools on U.S. senator, court records show

Section 702 of the Act was adopted in 2008 and grants the Intelligence Community considerable powers to surveil foreign actors, though critics have contended that the tool has enabled improper surveillance of Americans.

Published: July 21, 2023 5:51pm

The FBI improperly used a controversial surveillance tool on a United States senator, as well as multiple state officials, court documents released Friday have revealed.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) secured an opinion from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) determined that the bureau made improper use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act's Section 702, a tool allowing for the warrantless surveillance of foreigners abroad.

The FISC opinion, according to The Hill, states that "[i]n 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." The FISC opinion does not name the individuals in question.

It further stated that in October 2022, "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."

Section 702 of the Act was adopted in 2008 and grants the Intelligence Community considerable powers to surveil foreign actors, though critics have contended that the tool has enabled improper surveillance of Americans.

In May of this year, a FISC filing determined that the FBI had improperly made use of the Section 702 database more than 278,000 times since it's creation. The database a vast library of information through which the intelligence community compiles to aid in seeking information on foreign intelligence. They may only access it under limited circumstances, however.

The opinion acknowledged that the bureau's FISA reforms had resulted in some demonstrated improvement on the FBI's part, with Judge Rudolph Contreras stated that "[d]espite the reported errors, there is reason to believe that the FBI has been doing a better job in applying the querying standard."

The bureau pointed to the opinion's acknowledge of improvement when responding the Friday release.

"The 2023 FISC Opinion confirms the significant improvement in the FBI’s Section 702 querying compliance since the implementation of our substantial reforms," FBI Director Christopher Wray said, per The Hill. "Section 702 is critical in our fight against foreign adversaries. We take seriously our role in protecting national security and we take just as seriously our responsibility to be good stewards of our Section 702 authorities."

"Compliance is an ongoing endeavor, and we recently announced new additional accountability measures. 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," he continued.

The ACLU fumed over the revelations, however.

ACLU National Security Project Deputy Director Patrick Toomey said "[t]hese disturbing new revelations show how Section 702 surveillance, a spy program the government claims is focused on foreign adversaries, is routinely used against Americans, immigrants, and people who are not accused of any wrongdoing."

"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," he continued. "As Congress debates reauthorizing Section 702, these opinions make clear why fundamental reforms are urgently needed."

Section 702 is set to expire at the end of the year and Intelligence Community leaders have urged Congress to renew it, though the revelations of misuse have led some lawmakers to adopt a hostile stance on such an action.

Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz in July introduced a resolution to support allowing the measure to expire on time.

"The persistent abuse of Section 702 of FISA underscores the disturbing trend of our federal government being weaponized against its people. The blatant misuse of warrantless surveillance powers targeting Americans’ communications should not be accepted or reauthorized. We must uphold national security without sacrificing the constitutional rights of our fellow Americans," he said at the time.

Ben Whedon is an editor and reporter for Just the News. Follow him on Twitter.

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