FBI Urged to Increase Use of Surveillance on Americans

A high-up official at the FBI suggested to agents to make use of its special surveillance powers against people in the United States, based on an internal email found by a news source. The Deputy Director of the FBI, named Paul Abbate, encouraged his team in April to explore using the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s (FISA) Section 702 authority. This type of authority permits surveillance without needing a warrant under specific circumstances, and it can even be used against American citizens. The FBI has defended the importance of Section 702 for national security reasons, although it previously caused controversy by using it to monitor the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump, as well as a Congress member and thousands of regular Americans.

The FBI can ask American companies to grant access to various communications without needing a search warrant under Section 702. However, the law specifies that at least one person being monitored must be a foreigner believed to be outside the U.S. In the past, during the 2016 election, the FBI spied on the Trump campaign using FISA, mainly relying on information from the discredited Steele Dossier. This topic stirred up concerns about misuse of the tool, with some lawmakers opposing the continuation of Section 702 earlier this year. In April, Congress actually went ahead and reauthorized the program on the same day Abbate’s email was sent.

Reports show that the FBI started disclosing details on its use of this surveillance tool in 2021. In that year, the bureau supposedly searched U.S. phone numbers or email accounts around 2.9 million times. After slight modifications in how searches are counted, the FBI disclosed having performed about 119,000 searches in 2022 and approximately 57,000 searches in 2023. The Department of Justice (DOJ) discovered in 2023 that the FBI follows the rules about 98% of the time when using this authority.

Some changes were made to the FISA rules as a condition for reauthorizing the surveillance program, with supporters of the renewal saying these changes would prevent abuse by the FBI while still allowing the monitoring of actual security threats. However, many organizations defending civil liberties strongly disagreed with renewing the program. There were statements from a Democratic representative, Zoe Lofgren, expressing worry over the FBI’s increasing surveillance of Americans.

It is crucial for the FBI to protect the country from dangers, but ensuring that citizens’ rights are respected should also be a top priority. The FBI needs to be transparent about its activities and follow the laws diligently to avoid overstepping boundaries and potentially infringing on individuals’ freedoms.

Written by Staff Reports

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