US Congress Report Calls for Privacy Reforms After FBI Surveillance ‘Abuses’

The FBI and the Biden administration as a whole have pressured Congress to reauthorize the 702 program as is, ignoring calls for reform that have increased since the beginning of the year, manifesting this month- here in the form of a comprehensive privacy bill.the Government Oversight Reform Act— legislation that also seeks to impose warrant requirements on the FBI, which can currently search 702 data without a judge’s consent, provided it is “reasonably likely” to find evidence of a crime.

FBI Director Christopher Wray, speaking before the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday, denounced the plan to impose a Section 702 arrest warrant, calling it a “coup hard” brought to the bureau’s national security division.

“Requiring a warrant would amount to a de facto ban,” Wray said, noting that the FBI would often be unable to meet the legal standards necessary for court approval, and that processing warrants would take too long to deal with. to “a quick request”. evolving threats. »

The report then details “significant” violations at the FBI, most reported to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) in 2022, before being made public in May. The majority of incidents — including one in which an FBI analyst conducted “bulk requests to more than 19,000 donors to a congressional campaign” — took place before a set of “remedial reforms” that the FBI attributes for virtually resolving its compliance issues.

The report attributes “most” misuse of 702 data to “a culture within the FBI” in which access was granted to many “poorly trained” agents and analysts with few internal safeguards. As an example, it says the FBI’s systems for storing 702 data were not designed to prompt employees to “opt-in” before conducting a query, “leading to numerous problems unintentional and non-compliant” of the system. “It also appears that FBI leadership did not take requests compliance incidents seriously,” the report said, “and was slow to implement reforms that would have addressed many of the problems.”

Nonetheless, the committee credits the FBI for not only “realizing the depth and breadth of its problems” but also for implementing serious reforms itself, including, among others measures, additional guidelines for employees, significant system changes and increased oversight in the form of supervisory reviews by legal experts and senior FBI officials. The committee nevertheless notes that the FISC – while somewhat “encouraged” by recent improvements – has found the office’s failure to comply with 702 procedures “persistent and widespread,” warning that it may be necessary to significantly restrict access of its employees to raw intelligence about foreign countries. in the future.

“The FBI has a history of abuse when it comes to questioning Section 702 information,” the report said, adding that reforms soon to be proposed by the Intelligence Committee would see the number of FBI employees FBI access to data reduced by 90 percent.

Citing “insufficient oversight and oversight” within the FBI, the committee says it should be prepared to audit every request targeting a U.S. person “within 6 months” of the search, and that House and House leaders Senate should be informed immediately when and if an FBI investigation is conducted. One analyst questions a term that could “identify a member of Congress.”

“The American people deserve a law that protects them from both government overreach and security threats,” the report said. “Section 702 needs to be reauthorized, but it also needs to be reformed.”

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