FBI headquarters building is seen
Source: The Wall Street Journal

FBI searched data of millions of Americans without warrants

FBI headquarters building is seen in Washington, U.S.
FBI reportedly searched data of about 3.4 million Americans without any warrant
Source: The Japan Times

News from this week specify how the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) went through data of as much as 3.4 million residents of the US. They reportedly went through emails, text, along with electronic communications that too without a warrant for more than a year. The top spy chief of the US revealed these aspects of the development in a report.

These specific ‘queries’ were reportedly made somewhere between December 2020 and November 2021 by the FBI personnel. Apparently, they were looking for indications of threats and terrorists among the electronic data legally collected under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. An annual transparency report issued Friday, April 29 by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence disclosed these aspects of the case. This surge reportedly came as the FBI took a step to stop hacking attacks. However, the American Civil Liberties Union referred to it as a breach of privacy ‘on an enormous scale.’

A senior staff attorney with ACLU National Security Project, Ashley Gorski gave a statement. She stated that the report mainly highlighted the extent of the unconstitutional ‘backdoor searches,’ and shows the severity of the issue. She went on to say that its ‘past time for the Congress’ to extend a hand to safeguard the ‘Fourth Amendment rights’ of the citizens.’ The authority used in this case by the FBI was under Section 702 of FISA. This is set to expire by the end of 2023 unless renewed by the Congress.

The stance on FBI’s actions:

Unfortunately, the published report does not exactly determine if the activity was illegal or even wrong in the first place. However, the disclosure could renew public and congressional debates over the authority of the US agencies to collect and review such information, especially that of people. Comparatively, less than 1.3 million queries were conducted involving the residents’ data between December 2019 and November 2020.

Additionally, the DNI provided updated statistics reflecting a steep rise in the number of times government officials looked for the identity of a citizen. This practice is often called ‘unmasking,’ which became a point of discussion for former President Donal Trump, along with his conservative allies.

The 38-page long report seemed to be seeking to provide a justification for the rise in the queries by FBI made last year. As of yet, the exact number of the US residents victim to having their information reviewed is not exactly known. This is due to the fact that there is no specific way to measure the data, as mentioned in the report.

“In the first half of the year, there were a number of large batch queries related to attempts to compromise U.S. critical infrastructure by foreign cyber actors,” according to the report. “These queries, which included approximately 1.9 million query terms related to potential victims — including U.S. persons — accounted for the vast majority of the increase in U.S. person queries conducted by FBI over the prior year.”