A prominent senator voiced strong objections to FBI surveillance of political donors in a Tuesday hearing, and for once it was not a conservative Republican.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) railed against the bureau for using a spying tool meant for foreign targets on almost 20,000 U.S. campaign contributors. His criticism came as Congress considered renewing the program or letting it expire.
I lose sleep over the 3.4 million warrantless searches of Americans’ communications through FISA's Section 702.
The FBI is making 559 searches per day, meaning they break the rules 559 times per day.
I am calling for serious reforms or else a full repeal of FISA. pic.twitter.com/xRrkXn75Uc
— Rep Andy Biggs (@RepAndyBiggsAZ) April 27, 2023
Durbin blasted the agency for misusing the surveillance weapon, known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). This permits federal spying on foreign actors located around the globe by compelling assistance from electronic communication service providers.
In theory, it is not supposed to be implemented against domestic targets, In practice, that is regularly done.
Durbin noted that “since the last reauthorization of Section 702, many violations of the constitutional, statutory, and court-imposed restrictions of 702 have come to light.”
The Illinois senator told Congress that people listed on police reports, including victims, were targeted by the FBI. Others who came under domestic surveillance were next of kin and witnesses.
Many in Congress from both parties threatened to block programs under Section 702 without meaningful changes concerning the FBI. The law was last renewed in 2018, and there have been several glaring missteps by the bureau since.
The FBI was untruthful in asking surveillance court judges for permission to wiretap a 2016 campaign aide for former President Donald Trump. It also ignored guidelines while investigating databases for a congressman on the House Intelligence Committee and a local political party.
The agency is also accused of using Section 702 to target Americans of Middle Eastern descent.
Criticism came down from a pair of recent chief judges on the primary U.S. surveillance court. Both called into question the reliability of FBI evidence, and one noted the regularity of mistakes is enough to cast doubt on the reliability of the information in other FBI applications.
Even defenders of Section 702 admit to significant concerns. Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) is the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee. In a statement, he asserted his belief that the provision “has kept American citizens safe and our U.S. service members abroad out of danger.”
However, Turner agreed that changes are necessary in order to stop the FBI from misusing “this vital national security tool.”