New policies adopted by the FBI reportedly affect the bureau’s access to intelligence gathered by the National Security Agency on U.S. citizens, but officials say they’re barred from explaining since the changes are classified.
The Guardian newspaper reported on Tuesday that the FBI has “quietly revised” its privacy rules with respect to how it searches NSA databases for phone records, email information and other metadata concerning Americans.
Specifically, the changes are said to involve the way the FBI uses Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the federal law that allows the U.S. intelligence community to collect information regarding non-U.S. persons.
In the wake of national security disclosures concerning the NSA’s surveillance operations in 2013, the Obama administration’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Group (PCLOB) recommended that the FBI adopt new minimization procedures to ensure the personal details of American’s aren’t improperly accessed by agents scouring NSA databases for details on foreigners.
“The FBI’s minimization procedures should be updated to more clearly reflect the actual practice for conducting U.S. person queries, including the frequency with which Section 702 data may be searched when making routine queries as part of FBI assessments and investigations. Further, some additional limits should be placed on the FBI’s use and dissemination of Section 702 data in connection with non–foreign intelligence criminal matters,” the watchdog group said then.
More recently, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in January 2016 that the board’s recommendations concerning Sec. 702 minimization and targeted procedures had been “successfully implemented.” One month later, the PCLOB acknowledged that the government had adopted all 22 of its recommendations with respect to surveillance reform, either in full or in part.
On Saturday, the PCLOB released a new compliance report in which it was revealed that the Obama administration submitted “revised FBI minimization procedures” addressing the group’s concerns about “many” FBI agents who use the NSA’s databases, The Guardian reported.
“Changes have been implemented based on PCLOB recommendations, but we cannot comment further due to classification,” Christopher Allen, a spokesman for the FBI, told the news paper.
Sharon Bradford Franklin, a spokesperson for the PCLOB, told The Guardian that the changes enhance privacy protections and “apply additional limits” to the FBI, but said she couldn’t elaborate further since aspects about the rule change, including when it went into effect, are classified.