The FBI has implemented new protocols that allegedly enhance privacy safeguards for Americans, when bureau agents search through the NSA’s massive intelligence databases for information.
It can’t be confirmed, however, since details about the reported minimization procedures are classified. They were approved by the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which oversees sensitive spying operations, both domestic and abroad.
US officials confirmed the changes to The Guardian in a report published on Tuesday.
“Changes have been implemented,” an unnamed official told the paper. “We cannot comment further due to classification.”
A spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) told The Guardian that they’re “considering releasing” the FBI’s latest minimization procedures.
“Due to other ongoing reviews, we do not have a set date that review will be completed,” they said.
The reforms revealed Tuesday were based on a 2014 report by an executive branch watchdog, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB).
That report described how the FBI can directly access NSA foreign intelligence repositories for routine investigations. Once inside, agents can indirectly collect information belonging to American citizens without a warrant — a procedure described as a “backdoor search loophole” by privacy-minded Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)
In a report published Saturday, the PCLOB alluded to “revised FBI minimized procedures.” A spokesperson for the board, Sharon Bradford Franklin, told The Guardian that classification rules prevented her from specifying, but that “they do apply additional limits” on the FBI.
Under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the NSA collects enormous amounts of supposedly foreign intelligence, either through siphoning off data from internet fiber cable connections around the world or through direct requests to telecom companies.
The wide net cast by agency often leads to “incidental” collection of US citizens’ online data, particularly Americans with ties to foreign individuals targeted for surveillance. The scope of the program was first revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013.
Section 702 is set to expire at the end of next year without congressional reauthorization. The House Judiciary Committee held a secret hearing on the provision last month.