US /

FBI Misused Database to Search Protesters, Donors

Agency says it was a misunderstanding after FISA criticism
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted May 19, 2023 4:15 PM CDT
FBI Misused Database to Search Protesters, Donors
Rep. Matt Gaetz speaks as Rep. Jim Jordan, left, holds a news conference Thursday with members of a House Judiciary subcommittee about what Republicans say is the politicization of the FBI and Justice Department.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The FBI could pay a price for misusing a digital surveillance tool—after employing it against crime victims, protesters, and even donors to a congressional candidate. The agency has acknowledged the problem and attributed it to a misunderstanding over guidance from Justice Department lawyers, the Washington Post reports. The issue involves the huge Section 702 database created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Although the FBI said it has corrected the problem, it could make winning approval in Congress to renew the law, which expires at the end of the year, more difficult. Republicans held a congressional hearing this week in an attempt to show the FBI is unfair to conservatives and seized on a special counsel's report critical of the agency.

A FISA opinion written a year ago and unsealed Friday warned the FBI that the court will step in and order changes to surveillance practices if they're not cleaned up. FBI officials have the authority to search the database for information only when they have reason to think they'll find evidence of crimes or relevant foreign intelligence information, per the Post. That mandate has been exceeded. After the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, for example, a single FBI analyst ran 23,132 distinct searches for signs of foreign influence, though the Justice Department and FISA Judge Rudolph Contreras found no reason to think any existed. The FBI's changes include having lawyers approve batch searches concerning large numbers of people before they take place. Agents and analysts also have to write out why they think they'll find evidence of a crime or foreign intelligence information. (More FBI stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.