The FBI's use of electronic surveillance tools violated the constitutional privacy rights of Americans whose communications were swept up in a controversial foreign intelligence program, according to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The court concluded that the FBI had been improperly searching through a database of raw intelligence for information on Americans, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The ruling, made last year, was disclosed on Tuesday.
The intelligence community disclosed Tuesday that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court last year found that the FBI’s pursuit of data about Americans ensnared in a warrantless internet-surveillance program intended to target foreign suspects may have violated the law authorizing the program, as well as the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches.
The court concluded that the FBI had been improperly searching a database of raw intelligence for information on Americans—raising concerns about oversight of the program, which as a spy program operates in near total secrecy. -WSJ
According to the FISA court, tens of thousands of improper searches were conducted by the Bureau in 2017 and 2018. They were deemed improper in part due to the involvement of data relating to tens of thousands of emails or phone numbers. Moreover, the FBI was potentially using the intelligence information to vet personnel and cooperating sources. Per federal law, the database can only be searched by the FBI while seeking evidence of a crime or for foreign intelligence information.
In other cases, the court ruling reveals improper use of the database by individuals. In one case, an FBI contractor ran a query of an intelligence database—searching information on himself, other FBI personnel and his relatives, the court revealed.
The Trump administration failed to make a persuasive argument that modifying the program to better protect the privacy of Americans would hinder the FBI’s ability to address national-security threats, wrote U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, who serves on the FISA Court, in the partially redacted 167-page opinion released Tuesday. -WSJ
"The court accordingly finds that the FBI’s querying procedures and minimization procedures are not consistent with the requirements of the Fourth Amendment," concluded Judge Boasberg.