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FBI’s US spy program violated privacy rights ‘tens of thousands’ of times, federal court rules

Standing on Pennsylvania Avenue NW and look up F Street NW at the J. Edgar Hoover Building, the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, D.C., in the United States (Aude/Wikimedia Commons)
October 08, 2019

A recently revealed 2018 federal court ruling determined that a number of the FBI’s surveillance activities violated the privacy rights of United States citizens.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled the FBI’s efforts to access information about the metadata of Americans caught up a warrantless internet-surveillance program intended foreign suspects likely violated both Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)and the constitution’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The court’s ruling reportedly determined the FBI’s FISA surveillance included tens of thousands of improper searches of raw intelligence databases between 2017 and 2018 by accessing emails or telephone numbers. One of the apparent violations included use of the database to investigate its personnel and sources cooperating with investigations. Another reported abuse of the FISA surveillance system included improper access by an FBI contractor who reportedly searched for FISA information on himself and then on family members.

Federal law limits the FBI’s use of FISA surveillance to only be used for criminal and foreign intelligence information.

The ruling comes as a rare admonition of the law enforcement agency’s surveillance activities. Though the ruling was issued last year, intelligence community sources did not disclose the court’s ruling until Tuesday.

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“The court accordingly finds that the FBI’s querying procedures and minimization procedures are not consistent with the requirements of the Fourth Amendment,” U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, who serves on the FISA Court, wrote in a partially redacted 167-page opinion of the agency’s FISA

The court also struck down arguments from the Trump administration, which reportedly claimed that adding new privacy protections to the FISA programs would become a hurdle for the FBI’s ability to address national-security threats.

In April, Trump-appointee Attorney General Bill Barr suggested that the 2016 Trump campaign was also victimized by the FBI and DOJ’s uses of the FISA surveillance program. The FBI and DOJ obtained FISA warrants on Trump campaign advisor Carter Page. In making their case for the FISA warrants, the agencies reportedly cited a dossier written by former British spy Christopher Steele that accuses Trump’s campaign of colluding with the Russian government.

“I think spying did occur,” Barr said of the 2016 FISA warrants. “But the question is whether it was predicated, adequately predicated, and I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated. But I’d need to explore that.”

Barr said the apparent FISA abuse against Trump may have been the result of failures by several U.S. intelligence community leaders.

“I feel I have an obligation to make sure government power is not abused. I think that’s one of the principal roles of the attorney general,” Barr said.

In May, Barr also appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham of Connecticut to investigate the alleged FISA abuse against the Trump team.

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