The FBI may have conducted millions of warrantless searches of Americans’ electronic data last year, U.S. intelligence officials acknowledged in a report released Friday.
The report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence revealed that the bureau conducted up to 3.4 million searches of U.S. data drawn from the National Security Agency. Senior Biden administration officials told The Wall Street Journal the number is likely inflated due to the way individual queries are tabulated, but the number was still nearly triple that of the prior year.
“We’re committed to proactively informing the public, who entrusts us to protect our nation and our civil liberties, on the Intelligence Community’s use of key national security authorities,” said ODNI Chief of Civil Liberties, Privacy, and Transparency Ben Huebner.
(1) The FBI conducts warrantless "backdoor searches" for Americans' data in Section 702 databases on a massive scale: up to 3.39 million of these searches last year. Though the FBI's arithmetic is fuzzy, it's clear that the scale of the problem is enormous. pic.twitter.com/M0VjG3X2in
— Ashley Gorski (@ashgorski) April 29, 2022
The report is the first time a U.S. intelligence agency has published an accounting of how the FBI scoops up data through Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The FBI has been heavily criticized for abusing this process in the Trump-Russia collusion investigation and Section 702, which governs the bureau’s actions, is set to expire next year.
The NSA collects vast amounts of data from international phone calls and emails under the law, passed in the wake of 9/11, to safeguard national security. But the data is only analyzed if an intelligence agency culls it from the NSA database.
The 3.4 million figure “is certainly a large number,” a senior FBI official told reporters Friday, after the report was released. “I am not going to pretend that it isn’t.”
The majority of the searches were related to an investigation into alleged attempts by alleged Russian actors to hack into the U.S. infrastructure, senior U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal.
The report does not say how many individual Americans may have had their data searched, as some queries involved the same people. Further complicating the matter is that the 3.4 million figure is at least partially based on search terms that were used, and some searches were conducted using hundreds of terms, officials said.