WASHINGTON - Newly declassified records with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court revealed the FBI violated privacy rights of Americans by searching their emails.
The improper searches were done under a controversial foreign intelligence program that allows surveillance without a warrant. It is meant to track down foreign suspects.
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The report said the email searches involved a large number of Americans but it's unclear exactly how many American people were affected because it said the FBI was not keeping proper records.
The court found that some Americans were electronically searched without probable cause which violated their Fourth Amendment rights.
"In these circumstances, there's really no way you would know if your communications are being collected," Alan Butler, with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said. "This is really about oversight and accountability."
The court found that some FBI employees either misapplied or misunderstood the search standard and that led to searches on Americans, even if there wasn't enough evidence of a crime.
It also revealed that the FBI wasn't keeping proper records on the people whose emails were searched.
"There's really no telling how many Americans had their communications swept up in those systems and then searched," Butler said.
The foreign surveillance program was significantly expanded after the 9/11 terror attacks.
"Decisions like this really call into question whether they should be renewed or they should be scaled back," Butler said.
The FISA findings were made last year, and the FBI has since made changes to better safeguard privacy and maintain better recordkeeping.
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