From The Intercept:
From 2013 to 2015 the NSA and CIA doubled the number of warrantless searches they conducted for Americans’ data in a massive NSA database ostensibly collected for foreign intelligence purposes, according to a new intelligence community transparency report.
The estimated number of search terms “concerning a known U.S. person” to get contents of communications within what is known as the 702 database was 4,672 — more than double the 2013 figure.
And that doesn’t even include the number of FBI searches on that database. A recently released Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruling confirmed that the FBI is allowed to run any number of searches it wants on that database, not only for national security probes but also to hunt for evidence of traditional crimes. No estimates have ever been released of how often that happens.
Under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the NSA collects hundreds of millions of digital communications at rest and in transit from the major internet backbones running in and out of the U.S., as well as from Google, Facebook, YouTube, and other companies, involving “targets” overseas.
The FBI is allowed to run any number of searches it wants … to hunt for evidence of traditional crimes
Americans’ communications are constitutionally protected from warrantless searches, but when those communications are swept up by the NSA “incidentally” to its main goal, those protections have been essentially ignored.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has said the practice of searching the database for American communications is not “unlawful” because the content is collected legitimately in the first place — and because there are protections against sharing Americans’ identities unless it’s absolutely necessary.
But many privacy activists, as well as lawmakers including Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., describe this practice as a “backdoor” search because it’s a way to gather evidence on Americans without getting court approval.
“If intelligence officials are deliberately searching for and reading the communications of specific Americans, the Constitution requires a warrant,” said Wyden in a press release in June 2014.
The ODNI director of legislative affairs, Deidre M. Walsh, wrote in a 2013 letter to Wyden that the NSA approved 198 searches, or “queries,” for the content of American communications in the 702 database — while the CIA approved “fewer than 1900” queries — for about 2100 overall.