For a second year, the nation’s surveillance court has pointed with concern to “widespread violations” by the F.B.I. of rules intended to protect Americans’ privacy when analysts search emails gathered without a warrant — but still signed off on another year of the program, a newly declassified ruling shows.
In a 67-page ruling issued in November and made public on Monday, James E. Boasberg, the presiding judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, recounted several episodes uncovered by an F.B.I. audit where the bureau’s analysts improperly searched for Americans’ information in emails that the National Security Agency collected without warrants.
Rather than a new problem, however, those instances appeared largely to be additional examples of an issue that was already brought to light in a December 2019 ruling by Judge Boasberg. The government made it public in September.
The F.B.I. has already sought to address the problem by rolling out new system safeguards and additional training, although the coronavirus pandemic has hindered the bureau’s ability to assess how well they are working. Still, Judge Boasberg said he was willing to issue a legally required certification for the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program to operate for another year.
“While the court is concerned about the apparent widespread violations of the querying standard,” Judge Boasberg wrote, “it lacks sufficient information at this time to assess the adequacy of the F.B.I. system changes and training, post-implementation.”
Because of that, he added, the court concluded that “the F.B.I.’s querying and minimization procedures meet statutory and Fourth Amendment requirements.”