The US government has a lengthy history of engaging in surveillance of American citizens, as evidenced by the infamous case of the FBI maintaining files on political figures like Martin Luther King Jr. Recent court records, which have been unsealed, indicate that not much has improved in this regard. Among these records is an opinion from the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, dated April 21, 2022, which warned the FBI of consequences unless it modified its surveillance practices. It has been reported by The Washington Post that the federal agency abused the Section 702 database, a potent repository of information pertaining to American citizens. Allegedly, agents conducted over 278,000 searches on the database without obtaining the required authorization.
The FBI is obligated to utilize the 702 database solely when there is a belief that it will yield evidence pertinent to a crime or foreign intelligence information. This database was established in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. However, the agency asserts that somewhere along the line, there was a miscommunication, resulting in agents employing the database for purposes beyond its original intention.
🚨 BREAKING: A newly unsealed court document shows the FBI wrongly searched a vast digital database for information about U.S. citizens and others more than 278,000 times in 2020 and early 2021.— Young Americans for Liberty (@YALiberty) May 19, 2023
The government is not your friend.https://t.co/oFDIpvpY8K
Instances of abuse encompass a series of occurrences between 2016 and 2020, during which the FBI conducted inquiries to gather information on individuals mentioned in “police homicide reports, including victims, next-of-kin, witnesses, and suspects.” Furthermore, more than 23,000 searches were conducted in relation to the January 6 riots, purportedly to determine if foreign actors were involved.
However, it has been reported that the agency had no indication of a connection between the incident and external influences. Additionally, over 100 other queries were conducted concerning individuals who were arrested during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. The court issued a warning to the FBI, stating that if the agency did not rectify its practices, it would be compelled to implement changes forcefully. However, the FBI took action on its own accord, without the need for the judges to follow through on their threats.
For a considerable time, critics have been expressing their objections to the government’s unrestricted access to the comprehensive database. Civil rights activists have maintained skepticism regarding the federal authorities’ ability to responsibly handle the significant responsibility associated with its usage, and recent events have proven them correct.
The fate of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which authorizes such access, will be determined by Congress later this year. Republicans have signaled their substantial concerns and reservations about its renewal.