The FBI performed potentially millions of searches of electronic data last year without a warrant, U.S. intelligence officials said, a revelation likely to stoke concerns in Congress about government surveillance and privacy. An annual report published Friday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence disclosed that the FBI conducted as many as 3.4 million searches of U.S. data that had been previously collected by the National Security Agency, reports the Wall Street Journal. Biden administration officials said the actual number of searches is likely far lower. It couldn’t be learned from the report how many Americans’ data was examined by the FBI.
The report doesn’t allege the FBI was routinely searching American data improperly or illegally. The disclosure marks the first time a U.S. intelligence agency has published an accounting of the FBI’s grabs of American data through a section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that governs some foreign intelligence gathering. The FISA Section 702, which authorizes the FBI’s activity, is due to expire next year. Judges have reprimanded the bureau for failing to comply with privacy rules. Officials said the FBI’s searches were vital to protect the U.S. from national-security threats. More than half of the reported searches—nearly two million—were related to an investigation into a national-security threat involving attempts by alleged Russian hackers to break into critical infrastructure in the U.S.