During a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Thursday, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz (R) got DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz to admit that the FBI conducted 3.4 million warrantless “backdoor searches” of Americans’ communications.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allows intelligence agencies to carry out targeted surveillance of foreigners outside the U.S. The FBI, however, has been using FISA on Americans through backdoor searches.

According to a 2022 transparency report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, there were 3.4 million backdoor searches conducted in 2021. On Thursday, Gaetz questioned Horowitz about these searches.

“I want to get into the 3.4 million backdoor searches that the ranking member pointed out in his opening statement,” Gaetz said, addressing the DOJ Inspector General. “How should the public think about those?”

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida)

“Well, I think what we’ve seen in the various public reports, and I’m limited in what I can say about what’s public… It’s obviously very concerning that there’s that volume of searches and particularly concerning the error rate that was reported on in the last two years in the public reporting,” Horowitz said, adding that there was an approximate 30% error rate in these queries.

“How many people can perform these backdoor queries?” asked Gaetz.

“I’m gonna defer to board members ’cause you have the review ongoing,” replied Horowitz, referencing the Chair of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, Sharon Bradford Franklin.

Franklin responded, “I’m afraid I don’t have those figures at my fingertips in terms of the number of people that can conduct those types of searches. But I share the concern expressed in the question that we need to have greater safeguard requirements.”

DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz

“If I represent to you that we believe there may be north of 10,000 people in the federal government that can perform those queries, would anyone have a basis to disagree with that assessment?” asked Gaetz.

“No,” Horowitz said.


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