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IPFS News Link • FBI

The FBI is Playing Politics with Your Privacy

• By Matthew Guariglia, Brendan Gilligan, Cindy Cohn

A bombshell report from WIRED reveals that two days after the U.S. Congress renewed and expanded the mass-surveillance authority Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Paul Abbate, sent an email imploring agents to "use" Section 702 to search the communications of Americans collected under this authority "to demonstrate why tools like this are essential" to the FBI's mission.

In other words, an agency that has repeatedly abused this exact authority—with 3.4 million warrantless searches of Americans' communications in 2021 alone, thinks that the answer to its misuse of mass surveillance of Americans is to do more of it, not less. And it signals that the FBI believes it should do more surveillance–not because of any pressing national security threat—but because the FBI has an image problem.

The American people should feel a fiery volcano of white hot rage over this revelation. During the recent fight over Section 702's reauthorization, we all had to listen to the FBI and the rest of the Intelligence Community downplay their huge number of Section 702 abuses (but, never fear, they were fixed by drop-down menus!). The government also trotted out every monster of the week in incorrect arguments seeking to undermine the bipartisan push for crucial reforms. Ultimately, after fighting to a draw in the House, Congress bent to the government's will: it not only failed to reform Section 702, but gave the government authority to use Section 702 in more cases.

Now, immediately after extracting this expanded power and fighting off sensible reforms, the FBI's leadership is urging the agency to "continue to look for ways" to make more use of this controversial authority to surveil Americans, albeit with the fig leaf that it must be "legal." And not because of an identifiable, pressing threat to national security, but to "demonstrate" the importance of domestic law enforcement accessing the pool of data collected via mass surveillance. This is an insult to everyone who cares about accountability, civil liberties, and our ability to have a private conversation online. It also raises the question of whether the FBI is interested in keeping us safe or in merely justifying its own increased powers.

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