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Law & the Courts

FBI’s Foreign Surveillance Program Violated Americans’ Civil Liberties, FISA Court Finds

(Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has ruled that an FBI program intended to target foreign suspects violated Americans’ constitutional right to privacy by collecting the personal information of American citizens along with the foreign targets of the surveillance.

According to the ruling, tens of thousands of searches the FBI made of raw intelligence databases from 2017 to 2018 were illegal, the Wall Street Journal first reported. The searches involved personal data including emails and telephone numbers of private citizens.

“The court…finds that the FBI’s querying procedures and minimization procedures are not consistent with the requirements of the Fourth Amendment,” wrote U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in the ruling, which was released Tuesday in partially redacted form.

Boasberg said the Trump administration failed to persuade the court that adjusting the program to more efficiently protect American citizens’ privacy would impede the FBI’s ability to counter threats.

Federal law limits searches on such databases to to those that are explicitly related to the collection of evidence of a crime or foreign intelligence.

In one case revealed in the ruling, an FBI official used a database to search for information on himself, his relatives and other FBI personnel.

The Foreign Intelligence Service Act has come under scrutiny in recent years after the FBI obtained a FISA warrant to conduct an investigation into former Trump-campaign adviser Carter Page. The FBI maintains it suspected Page may have been working with Russian officials to interfere with the 2016 presidential election campaign, while President Trump has said the FBI “illegally spied” on his campaign.

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