“The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s presiding judge signed off on the sweeping surveillance powers held by federal spy agencies, a newly declassified yearly report shows, despite finding “widespread violations” of the FBI’s rules related to handling and searching the massive number of emails and other intercepts collected without a warrant.
Judge James Boasberg, the top judge on the FISA court, issued a 67-page ruling in November, which was made public on Monday, dealing with FBI analyst searches of information on U.S. citizens in emails and other data sources that the National Security Agency has collected. Despite a number of problems highlighted by the judge, similar to those highlighted in a December 2019 ruling by the FISA court, Boasberg gave the green light to the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program, authorized under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, for another year.
The program stems from U.S. tech companies assisting the NSA overseas with intercepting the communications of foreign targets — some of whom are communicating with U.S. citizens. Despite improper searches by the bureau, the judge largely gave the FBI a pass, arguing many of the violations occurred before newly implemented reforms from the bureau were put in place.
“While the Court is concerned about the apparent widespread violations of the querying standard … it lacks sufficient information at this time to assess the adequacy of the FBI system changes and training, post-implementation,” Boasberg concluded. “Under these unique circumstances, and in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the Court is willing to again conclude that the improper queries described above do not undermine it’s prior determination that, with implementation of the documentation requirement, the FBI’s querying and minimization procedures meet statutory and Fourth Amendment requirements.”
The judge said that during an oversight review of a redacted FBI program, the government “discovered 40 queries that had been conducted in support of predicated criminal investigations relating to healthcare fraud, transnational organized crime, violent gangs, domestic terrorism involving racially motivated violent extremists, as well as investigations relating to public corruption and bribery [redacted].” The judge said that “none of these queries was related to national security.”
Boasberg also said, “Another analyst ran a ‘batch query’ using [redacted] accounts as query terms in connection with predicated criminal investigations relating to domestic terrorism that returned 33 Section 702-acquired products,” but the FBI was “unable to confirm whether any products were opened.” (Read more: The Washington Examiner, 4/27/2021) (Archive)