The Department of Justice Inspector General is set to conduct a new review that will dig into “any improper or illegal uses” of the FBI’s surveillance activities carried out under the Patriot Act, with obvious implications for Americans’ privacy.
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) will be delving into
cases that involve possible abuse of the intelligence service’s
power to collect phone records under the authority of Section 215
of the Patriot Act, which allows the FBI access to “any tangible things,” so long as
the FBI “specif[ies]”
that the order is “for an
authorized investigation . . . to protect against international
terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.”
Section 215 of 2001’s Patriot Act, which was extended in its
entirety for an additional four years by President Obama in May
of 2011, has been the subject of heated debate between the
intelligence community and members of Congress that believe it is
a necessary component of the war on terror versus groups such as
the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU. The latter think
that the ability to collect communications data en masse without
a warrant constitutes a breach of the Fourth Amendment.
According to an analysis of the OIG’s probe by Foreign Policy
Magazine, the review is to examine the FBI’s use of both pen
register and trap-and-trace authority under the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Without delving into the historical definition of “pen register” and “trap-and-trace” devices, which
harken back to basic pulse dialing on telephones, these both
refer to the ability to collect data on the numbers dialed by a
Likewise, as both pen register and trap-and-trace refer to
technology in an outdated way, when combined with the powers
offered by the Patriot Act and the secretive FISA courts, they
have allowed intelligence services greater leeway to include
computer software programs and internet surveillance.
The upcoming report by the OIG will clearly take on greater
significance coming on the heels of revelations of far-reaching
NSA surveillance of phone records from companies like Verizon,
and other tools that are according to leaks by former
intelligence contractor Edward Snowden allegedly collecting a
sweeping amount of information on online activities.
This new review by the Department of Justice, which will cover a
two-year period between 2007 and 2009, could therefore shed more
light on what the US government has been doing with both online
surveillance data and phone records.
On Monday, the White House announced that it was tasking director
of national intelligence James Clapper with an independent review
of surveillance activities conducted by the NSA, a clear reaction
to the widening number of Snowden’s leaks. Though the move was
welcomed by some, it was also quickly lambasted by groups like
the EFF and the ACLU, who questioned both the role of Clapper
following his untruthful responses to a Congressional hearing, as
well as the impartiality of a probe under the control of the very
agency it is investigating.
White House and administration officials countered on Tuesday
that Clapper would not be leading the review.
“The White House is selecting
the members of the Review Group, consulting appropriately with
the Intelligence Community,” a National Security Council
spokesperson told The Hill newspaper.
Whereas the NSA review panel seems to be off to a rocky start,
there is reason to expect some valuable information brought to
light by the Inspector General’s own inquiry.
“The IG has actually had a
decent track record calling attention to abuses and misconduct by
the FBI,” said Julian Sanchez, a research fellow who
studies surveillance law and technology at the Cato Institute who
spoke with FP Magazine.
The IG will also be reviewing the use of drones within the US,
including “policies, guidelines, controls, or restrictions”
relating to privacy rights and civil liberties.
The Inspector General’s office has so far not commented on when
its review will be released.
Republished from: RT