Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) managed to get the Department of Justice’s Inspector General Horowitz to disclose during a Thursday hearing before a House Judiciary subcommittee that the FBI had done over 3 million warrantless “backdoor searches” of Americans’ communications.
3.4 million backdoor searches were performed in 2021, according to a report on transparency from the Office of the DNI in 2022. (Director of National Intelligence.)
But those statistics are going down.
With this new revelation, the Biden administration hopes to convince Congress to renew a controversial electronic surveillance statute. According to a highly awaited transparency report on U.S. eavesdropping, released on Friday, the number of times FBI staff sought information on Americans within a repository of data gathered under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act dropped by more than 95% in 2022 compared to 2021.
Reduced database searches for information on American citizens who correspond with foreigners under surveillance result from a series of improvements implemented by the FBI in the summer of 2021.
About 120,000 times, the FBI searched for information on U.S. citizens in the 702 database.
The FBI can check the database for information on domestic offenses, but they only did so 16 times in 2017 and 13 times in 2016. The report is the first to detail the results of the adjustments done by the intelligence community in 2021 in response to a secret intelligence court’s finding that the agency engaged in “apparent widespread violations of the querying standard.”
The changes amounted to a series of internal procedures to deter improper database probing by bureau workers, such as forcing agents to opt-in to 702 searches and capping the total number of search words simultaneously. To safeguard the civil liberties of law-abiding citizens, the report stresses the critical importance of revising existing government monitoring programs.