Tags: US | Inspector | General | Patriot | Act

Watchdog Report Examines FBI's Use of Patriot Act Authority

Thursday, 21 May 2015 07:20 PM

The FBI has broadened the scope of records it seeks under a section of the Patriot Act that permits agents to gather wide-ranging materials during national security investigations, and also took too long to create procedures for the handling of nonpublic information, according to a watchdog report issued Thursday as Congress debates the future of government surveillance authority.

The report from the Justice Department's inspector general examines how the FBI, between the years of 2007 and 2009, used its investigative authority under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

That section of law, which has also been used to authorize the National Security Agency's bulk collection of American phone records, permits the FBI to obtain "tangible things" — including books or records — that are deemed relevant to national security probes.

The process generally begins when an FBI fills out a business records request reform that summarizes the investigation and describes the specific items being sought. The application is then presented for approval to a judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The report said the FBI has expanded the categories of information sought under Section 215 in ways that continue to demand oversight. Materials produced in response to Section 215 orders "now range from hard copy to reproductions of business ledgers and receipts to gigabytes of metadata and other electronic information," the report said. Technological advancements to the Internet and society's use of it "have also expanded the quantity and quality of electronic information available to the FBI," it said.

Agents who were interviewed as part of the report described the Patriot Act authority a valuable tool to develop leads and corroborate other information, but said they "did not identify any major case developments" that came from the records obtained through Section 215 orders.

The release of the report comes as Congress weighs whether to expand, modify or let expire Section 215 and the bulk collection of phone records. The White House and House leaders urged the Senate on Thursday to take up a bill that would end the bulk collection while still preserving other surveillance powers that are set to expire on June 1.

The report, the third such inspector general review in the last decade, said the FBI had satisfied earlier recommendations for improvement.

But the report also faulted the Justice Department for not acting until 2013 — years after it was required to do so — to develop proper procedures to minimize the retention and release of nonpublic information collected on Americans who are swept up in intelligence investigations.

Alex Abdo, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, called the inspector general's report "an indictment of the system of secret oversight" relied on as checks for FBI and NSA surveillance.

"It's evidence that the kind of reform we need is not superficial tinkering with government authorities," Abdo said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It's systemic reform."


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The FBI has broadened the scope of records it seeks under a section of the Patriot Act that permits agents to gather wide-ranging materials during national security investigations, and also took too long to create procedures for the handling of nonpublic information,...
US, Inspector, General, Patriot, Act
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2015-20-21
Thursday, 21 May 2015 07:20 PM
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