(Ken Silva, Headline USA) Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows U.S. government agencies to target foreigners outside the U.S. for intelligence purposes, which often results in the “incidental” collection of Americans’ communications.
However, the FBI and other agencies don’t know how many Americans are included in this “incidental” collection.
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz revealed this Thursday at congressional hearing about the renewal of FISA’s Section 702, which expires on Dec. 31. Horowitz was responding to questions from Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., who has expressed hesitancy about renewing the government’s 9/11-era spy powers.
Nadler said he still hasn’t received a response to a letter he sent in 2016 to then-National Intelligence Director James Clapper, asking him for statistics on the number of Americans affected by Section 702.
Horowitz said he hasn’t received information about this, either.
“I will follow up [with the intelligence community], but my understanding is it’s their position that it’s impossible to come up with an accurate number, which I find concerning,” the inspector general said.
While the number of Americans in the U.S. Section 702 database is unclear, what is known is that FBI agents and other officials have illegally searched that database for American information more than 1 million times, according to a report last year from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
That report said the FBI used its Section 702 powers to collect the data of roughly 3.4 million U.S. people in 2021—up from 1.3 million a year before. The report only provides statistics for 2020 and 2021.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., also said Thursday that some 10,000 DOJ officials have access to the Section 702 database. He didn’t say how he knows this, but suggested that the committee has been doing its own research on the matter.
Given these facts, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, proposed that Congress prohibits the FBI from searching the Section 702 database altogether.
While no Democrats expressed agreement with this proposal, Nadler did suggest that Americans’ should be automatically removed from the Section 702 database after a certain time period to prevent abuse.
Members of Thursday’s committee—the Subcommittee on Crime and Federal Government Surveillance—also expressed widespread agreement that the FBI should need a warrant in order to search for an American in the database.
Gaetz complimented Nadler and the other Democrats for coming on board with the notion of protecting civil liberties.
“I won’t even mention that Section 702 has been used disproportionally to target Republicans,” Gaetz jested after complimenting Nadler.
Ken Silva is a staff writer at Headline USA. Follow him at twitter.com/jd_cashless.