Oversight

Who Is Dumb Enough to Trust the FBI and Trump Officials? Congress.

A newly revealed document shows shocking new spying abuses by the FBI — while they told politicians they were respecting Americans’ privacy

Trevor Timm
GEN
Published in
5 min readOct 9, 2019

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Law enforcement officers walk out of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington, DC. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

OOnce more, we have a major privacy scandal on our hands, and once more we’re reminded why we can’t trust our elected officials.

In a newly declassified court ruling the FBI has been secretly violating the privacy rights of Americans on a massive scale by trawling for private communications on huge swaths of citizens without a warrant. The shocking opinion didn’t just show that the FBI has been breaking both the law and the Constitution — it has made liars out of many national security officials and should be an embarrassment to the politicians in Congress who have let these abuses occur.

The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA court) released a heavily redacted ruling on Tuesday that was written in October 2018. In it, the court documents the tens of thousands of times that FBI agents between 2017 and 2018 were illegally dipping into a huge National Security Agency (NSA) database and purposefully searching for emails and other communications of Americans.

Congress should immediately hold public hearings on this civil liberties disaster. (And while they are at it, Democratic lawmakers should apologize for their shameful vote that handed the Trump administration these dangerous powers in the first place.) What’s more, the lawsuits filed challenging these programs should clearly move forward, and the government should have to defend its actions in open court.

The NSA program under which this illegal spying initially occurred is often referred to as “Section 702” surveillance, named after the law that supposedly authorizes it. The NSA and FBI ostensibly “target” a foreigner with surveillance under this program, and any Americans they talk to are swept up into the database. The FBI can then go back and search for Americans’ information, thereby avoiding getting a judge-signed warrant as they would need if they “targeted” the American first.

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Trevor Timm
GEN
Writer for

Trevor Timm is the executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation. His writing has appeared the New York Times, the Guardian, and the Intercept.