Newly Released FISC Opinion Reveals FBI Improperly Searched for U.S. Senator in FISA Section 702 Data

July 25, 2023

A newly released Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinion from April 2023 revealed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has continued to abuse its access to information collected under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), including by searching for a U.S. Senator, a state senator, and a state court judge who had “complained to [the] FBI about alleged civil rights violations perpetrated by a municipal chief of police.” While the FISC noted that the FBI had made progress reining in its “pattern of conducting broad, suspicionless queries” of information collected under Section 702, it noted that DOJ “can only examine a fraction of total FBI queries” and serious violations may have gone undetected. The opinion, for the first time, approved a new National Security Agency (NSA) “Vetting Process,” through which NSA conducts programmatic—suspicionless—searches of Section 702 data for information about immigrants and other individuals seeking entry to the United States.

EPIC recently published several posts—including one on backdoor searches—as part of a new blog series focused on explaining Section 702 and the need to reform it. EPIC has also urged the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to recommend prohibiting warrantless backdoor searches and has joined a coalition of civil liberties groups proposing broad reform to Section 702 and related surveillance authorities.

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