F.B.I. Violated Surveillance Program Rules After George Floyd Protests and Jan. 6 Attack


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Charlie Savage, The New York Times

The bureau made changes after the newly revealed violations of rules for querying messages intercepted under an expiring warrantless surveillance law.

Black Lives Matters protesters in 2020 (Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times)

F.B.I. analysts improperly used a warrantless surveillance program to search for information about hundreds of Americans who came under scrutiny in connection with two politically charged episodes of civil unrest: the protests after the 2020 police killing of George Floyd and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, a newly declassified court ruling shows.

While the F.B.I. has tightened restrictions since then, the disclosure of the misuses is likely to provide fodder to critics of the program as the Biden administration seeks to persuade Congress to renew it.

The surveillance program, known as Section 702, empowers the government to collect, without a warrant and from American companies like Google and AT&T, the communications of foreigners abroad who are targeted for intelligence purposes — even when they are talking with or about Americans.

Intelligence and law enforcement officials can search the database of communications intercepted under Section 702 using the names or other identifiers of Americans, but only under certain circumstances. The F.B.I. has repeatedly failed to comply with those limits, leading to court scrutiny.


In June 2020 … an [FBI] official searched the repository using a batch of 133 identifiers of people arrested “in connection with civil unrest and protests between approximately May 30 and June 18, 2020,” to determine whether there was any counterterrorism-related information in the repository about them.

That period corresponds to the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests after the killing of Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis, some of which descended into riots. The F.B.I. initially defended the queries as compliant, but the Justice Department apparently disagreed.

Learn more about this issue in the original article.

Read more on what has happened since George Floyd’s death in this special news series article.

Find more Breaking News here.

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