TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Every year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence releases a report on transparency. It covers searches of everything from foreign threats to the data of U.S. citizens. According to the report, from December 2020 to November 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation searched through data of 3.4 million U.S. Persons.
That’s nearly 160% more searches than the previous year.
As detailed in the latest yearly transparency report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the FBI searched through data collected by the National Security Agency, the inclusion of a “U.S. person” in a search does not mean the individual themselves were the target of a query.
The “FBI counts such query actions as hundreds or thousands of queries, not one query. However, if even one query term in such a query action is associated with a U.S. person, every term in the query action carries the U.S. person label,” according to a report released by ODNI on Friday.
The searches were performed through a provision of Section 702. According to ODNI, Section 702 is part of the “FISA Amendments Act of 2008 that permits the government to conduct targeted surveillance of foreign persons located outside the United States, with the compelled assistance of electronic communication service providers, to acquire foreign intelligence information.”
The American Civil Liberties Union characterizes it differently, as a mass, warrantless surveillance of American communications.
“Under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the U.S. government engages in mass, warrantless surveillance of Americans’ and foreigners’ phone calls, text messages, emails, and other electronic communications,” the ACLU said. “Information collected under the law without a warrant can be used to prosecute and imprison people, even for crimes that have nothing to do with national security.”
Only the FBI the only intelligence agency allowed to use Section 702 in this manner, according to ODNI. The report said they have that right to allow for them to retrieve evidence of a crime, as well as for “queries that are reasonably likely to return foreign intelligence information.”
The FBI’s U.S. person queries are not “designed” to bring back foreign intelligence, according to DNI.
However, the ODNI said due to how the system for querying the communications data is set up, the 3.4 million might be an overcount.
“This system design ensures that all potential U.S. person query terms are captured, but results in an over counting of the number of U.S. person queries actually conducted by the FBI. For this reason, the total number of FBI U.S. person queries is referred to as “fewer than” the total number of queries labeled as U.S. person queries,” according to the ODNI report.
From December 2019 to November 2020, ODNI said the FBI used Section 702 of FISA to acquire information of “fewer than 1,324,057” U.S. persons. In the following year, that number grew to “fewer than 3,394,053.” Compared to the year before, it was a 156% increase.
Searches of different contact points for a person can qualify as an individual search, adding to the potential inflation of search result numbers. It can include email, phone numbers, text messages, or even just their name. Each one is a specific search, adding to the number included in the number of searches reported.