FISA Surveillance Act: FBI spied on demonstrators with anti-terrorist powers
US civil rights activists see their “worst fears” confirmed with new revelations about the abuse of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). According to a decision by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the FBI used the clause, which has been controversial for years, to illegally retrieve data from 19,000 financial supporters of a congressional campaign and 133 demonstrators. They took to the streets in 2020 against the police killing of black George Floyd. The US court FISC is responsible for foreign intelligence and acts mostly in secret.
Court upholds renewed abuse of law by FBI
The relevant article of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, last extended in early 2018, allows US security agencies such as the NSA and the FBI to request emails and other data from their customers from national companies, government agencies and institutions such as telecommunications providers or libraries. As a rule, they do not have to obtain special judicial approval for this. In 2021 alone, the FBI searched Section 702 data up to 3.4 million times to inspect communications from US citizens as well. There are always errors in these monitoring measures.
The FISC decision now published, which proves the renewed abuse to the FBI, dates from April 21, 2022. According to the decision, the US police agency also regularly conducted FISA searches for people “who are listed in police murder reports”. These included “victims, next of kin, witnesses and suspects”. The Department of Justice found that these data analyzes violated the rules “because there was no reasonable basis for believing that they contained foreign intelligence information or evidence of a crime.” would contain”.
Better justifications for searches in the future
Following the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, an FBI agent also conducted a series of investigations totaling 23,132 separate queries against suspected US citizens. He wanted to “find evidence of possible foreign influence,” although there were no suspicions of outside instigation. According to the Washington Post, the FBI has now declared that the abuses have been rectified. It took some time to find the errors. For this reason, the FISC decision was only published with a significant delay. Investigators would now have to better justify their requests for access to relevant databases.
Senator Ron Wyden, a longtime critic of US intelligence abuses, called the violations of Section 702 FISA “shocking”. According to the Democrat, the abuse has been going on for years and the public is still hiding important details. These latest revelations “should set alarm bells ringing throughout Congress,” warns Jake Laperruque, deputy director of the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT). Paragraph 702 would finally have to be pulled out the fangs.
Reform of powers of security agencies called for
As early as 2021, the FISC pointed out with concern that the FBI had “largely” violated rules protecting the privacy of US citizens in the mass surveillance program. In February it became known that FBI employees had once again unlawfully searched FISA raw data several times. It is also said to have been about evidence of foreign influence, this time in connection with a US representative. In another case, an inappropriate search referred to a local party.
After the Snowden revelations, Article 702 was one of the reasons for the European Court of Justice to overturn agreements on transatlantic data traffic twice already. The clause expires at the end of the year if Congress does not extend it. US civil rights organizations are calling for a comprehensive reform that will significantly limit the powers of the security authorities.
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