White House recommends scaling back FBI authority under intelligence act

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A White House review on Monday recommended that the FBI’s ability to conduct non-national security queries under a controversial surveillance law be removed as part of reforms aimed at getting the law reauthorized.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s Section 702 permits the U.S. government to collect digital communications of foreigners located outside the United States.

The law expires at the end of this year unless it is reauthorized and some lawmakers, both Democrat and Republican, are calling for major reforms out of concern that Section 702 has been used against Americans.

“If Congress fails to reauthorize Section 702, history may judge the lapse of Section 702 authorities as one of the worst intelligence failures of our time,” concluded the review, which was conducted for the White House by the president’s Intelligence Advisory Board.

The 42-page report said changes are necessary, in part because a Justice Department audit in 2021 of the FBI’s use of Section 702 found that some “noncompliant queries included individuals arrested during the January 6 Capitol breach,”- the 2021 uprising by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.

The review recommended that Attorney General Merrick Garland “remove FBI’s authority to conduct queries for evidence of a non-national security-related crime in its Section 702 data.”

“FBI’s use of Section 702 should be limited to foreign intelligence purposes only and FBI personnel should receive additional training on what foreign intelligence entails,” the review said.

The review found that while there were no instances of the FBI willfully misusing Section 702, the “FBI’s conduct has nevertheless undermined public confidence in its ability to use Section 702 in the way it was intended.”

Release of the White House review was accompanied by a statement from President Joe Biden’s top two national security aides, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his deputy, Jon Finer, saying reauthorizing Section 702 is necessary to counter threats from abroad.

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Mark Porter and Deepa Babington)


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