(Patriot.Buzz) – Expressing profound distrust over the agency’s handling of Americans’ communications, Senator Mike Lee grilled the FBI Chief regarding warrantless surveillance activities.
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, the Republican Senator from Utah questioned FBI Director Christopher A. Wray about the bureau’s use of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to conduct surveillance on Americans.
Senator Lee referred to multiple instances where the FBI had illegally used this tool, citing findings from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Senator Lee pressed Director Wray for accountability, inquiring if any FBI personnel involved in these illegal searches had been dismissed or had their security clearances revoked.
Wray acknowledged he was unaware of the specific instances and pointed to reforms implemented within the bureau to prevent such abuses. However, Lee expressed dissatisfaction, noting that lawmakers had not been apprised of these new policies and thus had no reason to trust the FBI.
The discussion centered around the FISA law, which grants the government extensive surveillance powers over non-Americans abroad, with stipulations against targeting Americans. However, concerns about “backdoor searches” have been raised, where Americans’ communications are inadvertently captured.
Senator Lee highlighted that in 2022, over 200,000 searches of Americans’ communications were conducted, with only 16 based on evidence of a crime. Director Wray defended Section 702 as constitutional, a stance challenged by Senator Lee, who argued that individuals are often unaware their communications are being searched, infringing Fourth Amendment rights.
With certain conditions, the FISA Court has authorized rules enabling the FBI and other agencies to query the FISA database for Americans’ communications.
A report by the government’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board revealed that thousands of queries related to civil unrest and protests were executed from November 2020 to December 2021. This included searches of communications of racial justice protesters, Americans traveling abroad, and attendees of a sporting event.
Lawmakers are working on legislation to reform the government’s primary electronic spying law, with proposals for new restrictions on access to communications and a warrant requirement for FBI searches of Americans’ identities in the FISA database.
The main point of contention is whether to include a warrant requirement for any FISA database search involving a U.S. person. The Judiciary legislation also proposes limits on the number of FBI personnel authorized to conduct these queries.