FBI and the National Security Agency (NSA), under the Obama
administration, committed numerous violations of procedures intended to
safeguard Americans’ personal data and communications collected under
Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
the section, which was part of amendments to FISA passed in 2008 by
then-President George W. Bush, the intelligence community has broad
powers to collect internet and telephone data to spy on foreign
to protect Americans’ data collected under the program were weakened
Obamain 2011, allowing the NSA to search
through Americans’ data using their names. Previously, these types of
searches, known as “queries using United States person identifiers,”
its ruling in 2011, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court
(FISC) said the “relaxation of the querying rules” would be limited to
queries “reasonably likely to yield foreign intelligence information.”
FISC at the time also approved the broader collection of so-called
upstream data, which is all internet data traveling through key internet
in subsequent years, policies intended to defend against the misuse of
this power, called minimization and targeting procedures, were
systematically broken, resulting in numerous violations.
702 system, which was never designed to spy on Americans, but rather to
safeguard U.S. national security, had become a powerful spying tool in
the hands of the government.
with the FISA system received nationwide attention in February after a
declassified House intelligence committeememorevealed
that the FBI and the Department of Justice had obtained a FISA warrant
on Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page, using information paid for by
the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
initial warrant, and its three subsequent renewals, could have been used
to spy on anyone who was in contact with Page, including members of the
Trump campaign. The NSA is allowed to analyze communications “three
hops” from its original target. Anyone in direct communication with Page
is one hop away; anyone in communication with those talking to Page is
two hops away; and anyone talking to those who are twice removed from
Page is three hops away.
year, it was already revealed that top Obama officials, including
national security adviser Susan Rice and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.
Samantha Power, used so-called unmasking requests to obtain
communications belonging to specific members of the Trump campaign and
General Jeff Sessions said on March 7 that he has appointed a person
outside of Washington to look into the allegations of FISA abuse.
Sessions’s statement came in response to a letter signed by 13 members
of Congress calling for the appointment of a second special counsel to
investigate the alleged abuse.
With the FBI
to the declassified top-secret FISC report, the FBI provided access to
sensitive 702 data to employees that were not authorized to have access
to the data. In some cases, this data was then exported by the
employees, and it is unclear how it was subsequently used.
agency also provided contractors with access to raw 702 data. The
contractors maintained access to the data, even after their work for the
FBI was finished.
one case, an unauthorized private entity was given access by the FBI to
702 data. The unnamed private entity is mostly staffed by private
contractors, whose access to 702 data was not controlled or monitored.
“contractors had access to raw FISA information that went well beyond
what was necessary to respond to the FBI’s requests,” wrote the FISC, in
FBI discontinued the private entity’s access to raw FISA data in April
2016, the same month in which the Clinton campaign and the DNC used law
firm Perkins Coie to retain Fusion GPS to produce the so-called Trump
dossier would eventually lead to the FBI obtaining the FISA warrant on
Carter Page in October 2016.
the FISC did recertify the FBI’s minimization procedures as being
constitutional it wrote that it was “nonetheless concerned about the
FBI’s apparent disregard of minimization rules and whether the FBI may
be engaging in similar disclosures of raw Section 702 information that
have not been reported.”
scope of the FBI’s accessing of Americans’ data is unclear, as the
government is not required to provide the FISC with numbers on
violations. In the NSA’s case, it told the court that it was unable to
provide a number for how many times Americans’ data had been unlawfully
accessed. The scope of the NSA’s violations also remains unclear.
response to the problems, as well as an internal review by the agency,
the NSA stopped the collection of what are called multicommunication
transactions (MCTs) to minimize violations. The term MCTs refers to the
NSA’s mass collection of communications while targeting one
FBI and CIA will no longer have access to upstream data collected by the
NSA at key internet junctions.
Trumpordered his director of national
intelligence to develop procedures for law enforcement agencies to
obtain the identities of Americans in intelligence reports. This
practice of unmasking is what was used to spy on the Trump campaign
during the elections.