Report: FBI Conducted Millions of American Data Searches Last Year Without a Warrant

Report: FBI Conducted Millions of American Data Searches Last Year Without a Warrant FBI logo FBI logo. (Dreamstime)

By Jay Clemons | Friday, 29 April 2022 03:21 PM

The FBI executed millions of searches of American electronic data last year without a warrant, U.S. intelligence officials said Friday.

Citing its annual report, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) revealed the FBI performed as many as 3.4 million searches of U.S. data that had been previously collected by the National Security Agency.

However, senior Biden administration officials estimate the actual number of searches, without a warrant, to be "far lower," according to The Wall Street Journal.

The reason for the discrepancy between the two parties: The various "complexities" that involve counting and sorting U.S. data from foreign data.

To clarify, none of the searches have yet to be deemed "illegal" or "improper." But that qualifier might not be enough to appease the number of Americans who harbor long-standing concerns about governmental surveillance among private citizens.

The ODNI report says the FBI conducted roughly 3.39 million searches "using the identity of a presumed U.S. person" from Dec. 1, 2020, to Nov. 30, 2021.

However, the number of searches for the previous 12-month period was merely 1.3 million.

The DNI's report findings mark the first time a U.S. intelligence agency has published an accounting of internal machinations.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, has been on the U.S. books since 1978.

This law, which garnered fame amid reports that former President Donald Trump had been illegally spied on during his 2016 presidential campaign, ostensibly helps U.S. officials govern the means of foreign-intelligence gathering.

The FISA 702 section, which authorizes various FBI searches and other activities, is reportedly set to expire in 2023.

Citing the ODNI report, officials generally say FBI searches are vital to the mission of protecting the U.S. from national security threats.

Will the 3.4 million figure make some Americans uncomfortable with the state of modern government surveillance?

It's "certainly a large number," a senior FBI official said Friday of the surveillance report, according to the WSJ. "I am not going to pretend that it isn't."

Nearly 2 million searches were related to investigations of national security threats, involving alleged Russian hackers, according to the WSJ.

Those targeted were searched as "efforts to identify and protect potential victims" of the alleged hacking, senior U.S. officials said, via the WSJ.

It's worth noting: The number of American data searches doesn't need to sync up with the number of Americans who might have had their personal information examined.

An individual's name, telephone number, email addresses, and social security number can all be searched, and each instance of each term would count as a single search.

Searches of U.S. information can pertain to data about U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and U.S. companies. And various searches, according to the WSJ, can yield a mix of metadata and content of collected communications.

The searches described by Friday’s ODNI report concern a large repository of electronic data collected by the NSA under Section 702 of FISA.

Section 702 was passed into law in the years following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to enable the U.S. to spy on non-Americans overseas.

The NSA uses the Section 702 program to "collect intelligence from international phone calls and emails about terrorism suspects, cyber threats," and other security risks.