Code: 1224958 A

The FBI searched emails, texts and other electronic communications of as many as 3.4 million US residents without a warrant over a year, the nation’s top spy chief said in a report.

The FBI searched emails, texts and other electronic communications of as many as 3.4 million US residents without a warrant over a year, the nation’s top spy chief said in a report.

The “queries” were made between December 2020 and November 2021 by Federal Bureau of Investigation personnel as they looked for signs of threats and terrorists within electronic data legally collected under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, according to an annual transparency report issued Friday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Bloomberg reported.

The surge came as the FBI made a push to stop hacking attacks.

The American Civil Liberties Union called it an invasion of privacy “on an enormous scale.”

“Today’s report sheds light on the extent of these unconstitutional ‘backdoor searches,’ and underscores the urgency of the problem,” Ashley Gorski, senior staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, said in a statement. “It’s past time for Congress to step in to protect Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights.”

The authority the FBI used in this case was under Section 702 of FISA, which is set to expire at the end of next year unless it’s renewed by Congress.

The report doesn’t say the activity was illegal or even wrong. But the revelation could renew congressional and public debates over the power US agencies have to collect and review intelligence information, especially data concerning individuals. In comparison, fewer than 1.3 million queries involving Americans’ data were conducted between December 2019 and November 2020, according to the 38-page report.

The report sought to provide a justification for the increase in queries during the last year.

 “In the first half of the year, there were a number of large batch queries related to attempts to compromise US critical infrastructure by foreign cyber actors,” according to the report. “These queries, which included approximately 1.9 million query terms related to potential victims -- including US persons -- accounted for the vast majority of the increase in US person queries conducted by FBI over the prior year.”

The exact number of US residents who potentially had their information reviewed isn’t known because there’s no precise way to measure the data, according to the report.

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