A Republican congressman on Thursday accused the FBI of searching an intelligence database for his name multiple times in what he called an “egregious” violation of his privacy.
Rep. Darin LaHood of Illinois confronted FBI Director Christopher Wray about the alleged incident, which he said occurred about three years ago, during an annual House Intelligence Committee hearing on national security threats. He cited a declassified US government report, covering activity from December 2019 to May 2020, that found that “misunderstandings regarding FBI’s systems” and search requirements “continued to cause a large number of query errors.”
The FBI, LaHood said, has “significant trust issue with members of Congress.”
Wray did not respond directly to LaHood’s specific allegation, but the FBI director said earlier in the hearing that he understands concerns about alleged privacy violations with the program and that the FBI has made reforms that address those issues in the years since.
“We are absolutely committed to making sure that we show you, the rest of the members of Congress and the American people that we’re worthy of these incredibly valuable authorities,” the FBI director added.
The program in question is a 2008 revision to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that allows US intelligence agencies to collect the phone calls and text messages of foreign targets overseas from US telecommunications providers without a warrant – even if means sweeping up the communications of Americans in touch with those foreign targets.
Analysts at intelligence agencies can then search the data gathered for “identifiers,” such as names or phone numbers, for leads related to foreign intelligence missions.
The program will expire at the end of this year unless Congress renews it – an uncertain prospect given concerns from some lawmakers that the US intelligence agencies could abuse the authorities.
Civil liberties have complained that the legal provision – known as Section 702 – infringes on Americans’ privacy; US national security officials say it is an essential program for thwarting terror plots and investigating malicious cyber activity.
Despite allegedly being queried in the FBI database, LaHood said he wants Section 702 to be reauthorized with “reforms and safeguards.”
In a statement to CNN, the FBI said it cannot comment on specific searches through the program but that the bureau “has made extensive changes over the past few years – changes that post-date the period covered in the reports raised in the hearing today – to address 702 compliance issues.”
That includes creating a new internal auditing office at the FBI that focuses on FISA compliance and “instituting new policies requiring enhanced pre-approval requirements before certain ‘sensitive’ US person queries can be run,” the FBI statement continued.
“For example, ‘sensitive’ queries involving elected officials now require Deputy Director approval,” the FBI statement continued.