FBI potentially conducted 3.4 million searches of Americans’ electronic data without a warrant last year

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During President Joe Biden’s first year in office, the FBI potentially conducted as many as 3.4 million warrantless searches of the American people’s electronic data, according to a report published Friday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The data was reportedly first collected by the National Security Agency and then made available for use by the FBI.

The report released Friday makes no mention of the searches being illegal, though civil rights advocates in Congress are already crying foul.

“Note to the FBI spying on Americans — this is none of your damn business!” Sen. Marsha Blackburn tweeted Friday.

Her tweet linked to The Wall Street Journal, which broke the news about the stunning number of searches late Friday.

“The disclosure of the searches marks the first time a U.S. intelligence agency has published an accounting, however imprecise, of the FBI’s grabs of American data through a section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that governs some foreign intelligence gathering. The section of FISA that authorizes the FBI’s activity, known as Section 702, is due to expire next year,” according to the Journal.

“While the ODNI report doesn’t suggest systemic problems with the searches, judges have previously reprimanded the bureau for failing to comply with privacy rules,” WSJ continued. “Officials said the FBI’s searches were vital to its mission to protect the U.S. from national-security threats. The frequency of other forms of national-security surveillance detailed in the annual report generally fell year over year, in some cases continuing a multiyear trend.”

The Journal notes, in fairness, that Biden administration officials believe the “actual number” of searches is far lower.

“An individual’s name, telephone number, email addresses and social security number can all be searched, sometimes repeatedly, and each instance of each term would count as a search,” according to the conservative paper.

But even then, the number of searches conducted in 2021 was 261 percent more than the number, 1.3 million, conducted during former President Donald Trump’s final year in office. This, critics say, is no coincidence.

What’s known is that over 50 percent of the 3.4 million searches conducted last year involved Russia.

“More than half of the reported searches—nearly two million—were related to an investigation into a national-security threat involving attempts by alleged Russian hackers to break into critical infrastructure in the U.S. Those searches included efforts to identify and protect potential victims of the alleged Russian campaign, senior U.S. officials said,” according to the Journal.

“Officials declined to give more details on the alleged Russian threat, including whether it was linked to the Russian government or a criminal hacking group. Russia has historically denied accusations of hacking the U.S. or other nations.”

What’s also known is that word of these searches came during the same week that the Biden administration announced its new Disinformation Governance Board.

This too, critics say, is no coincidence:

The underlying belief is that the number of searches conducted last year is just another example of Democrats acting like tyrants.

But there’s a problem with this narrative: The section of FISA that authorizes this surveillance, Section 702, has been broadly championed by both Republicans and Democrats, including by Trump.

“[W]hen given the opportunity to scale back the FBI’s power to secretly engage in domestic surveillance of American citizens, the president and the GOP did not take advantage of it. In fact, they did the opposite,” Reason magazine noted in 2018.

Several lawmakers, including Sen. Rand Paul, proposed reforms that “would have required officials to get a warrant to access Americans’ communications or data, except in very limited emergency circumstances,” but the reforms were rejected.

“In January, [then-Rep. Devin] Nunes and 177 other GOP legislators voted against the bill to restrict domestic snooping, then advanced and passed a different bill to renew Section 702. Rather than scaling back domestic surveillance powers, the legislation expanded them, explicitly permitting the FBI to use foreign surveillance rules to fight domestic crimes,” according to Reason.

Reforms were also proposed last year by a bipartisan group that included Rep. Thomas Massie. The proposal would have “limit[ed] the federal government’s warrantless searches of Americans’ private data,” according to The Intercept.

It clearly didn’t pass.

And even now, amid all the Orwellian actions being taken by the Biden administration, Republicans are reportedly still expected to help Democrats keep Section 702 alive next year …

Vivek Saxena


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