WASHINGTON The amount and types of business records available to U.S. investigators has dramatically expanded in recent years under terms of the Patriot Act, resulting in the FBI’s pursuit of a “broadening scope” of materials, an internal Justice Department review found Thursday.
The report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, the third in a series of examinations centering on the wide-ranging investigative authority granted by the act, comes as Congress is engaged in a heated debate over whether to renew some of the most disputed parts of the antiterrorism law adopted after the 9/ 11 attacks.
Among the three sections of the act set to expire June 1 unless the Senate takes action is the 215 records provision, which includes an allowance for the bulk collection of U.S. citizen telephone records. That section of the law has drawn a firestorm of criticism since the 2013 disclosure by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden of secret surveillance strategies employed by the government.
The House voted 338-88 last week to approve the bipartisan USA Freedom Act, which bars the NSA from using Section 215 to collect the phone records of Americans not suspected of any terrorist activity.
The heavily redacted inspector general’s report, which examined the FBI’s use of the provision from 2007 through 2009, found that the data swept up included “records of U.S. persons who were not the subject of or associated with the subjects of authorized investigations.”
The program’s disclosure prompted calls in Congress to stop it because of concerns that it violates the privacy rights of innocent Americans. A federal appeals court ruled this month thatthe NSA program is illegal.
While the inspector general noted that the broad authority granted under Section 215 is not limited solely to “known subjects” of investigations, it cautioned that the “expanded uses (of the authority) require continued significant oversight by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court,” which considers the law enforcement requests, and the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
Perhaps the inspector general’s most critical finding was that it took the FBI seven years to adopt required safeguards aimed at protecting the dissemination of information about U.S. citizens.
“The department should have met its statutory obligation considerably earlier,” the review found.
The FBI did not comment specificallyon the inspector general’sfindings.
The report by Justice’s inspector general comes as Congress debates whether to renew some of the most disputed parts of the Patriot Act
Edward Snowden’s disclosures about secret surveillance of American citizens have raised concerns about civil liberty violations.
Original article here.