The Office for the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) report that details intelligence agencies’ surveillance practices annually shows that the FBI ran approximately 3.4 million searches against U.S. citizens using data collected from Section 702 inquiries without a warrant.

The Annual Statistical Transparency Report, released by ODNI in late April, details that the number of searches on citizens’ electronic data was 3,394,053 searches without a warrant. The report itself offers information on data queries Federal agencies run against non-United States persons under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendment’s Section 702.

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These searches under Section 702 are meant to not be used against United States citizens and don’t require a warrant. The FBI is the only intelligence agency with authorization to conduct searches on United States citizens if they are deemed a threat to return foreign intelligence information or return evidence of a crime.

The NSA, CIA, and National Counterterrorism Center do not have this authorization, but do conduct Section 702 searches. During the same timeframe as the FBI, CIA and NSA conducted drastically fewer searches—around 4,000 cumulative.

“For anyone outside the U.S. government, the astronomical number of FBI searches of Americans’ communications is either highly alarming or entirely meaningless,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said in a statement. “Somewhere in all that over-counting are real numbers of FBI searches, for content and for non-content — numbers that Congress and the American people need before Section 702 is reauthorized.”

Sen. Wyden, who is a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is calling on the FBI to explain the increase in searches on American’s communication.

“The FBI must also be transparent about the particular circumstances in which it conducted a staggering 1.9 million additional queries in 2021,” he said. “Finally, the public deserves to know whether the FBI has fully addressed the extensive abuses of its 702 search authorities that have been documented for years. Baseline transparency is essential if the federal government wants to hold such sweeping surveillance powers.”

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.