On the heels of U.S. Senator Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) filibuster against extending provisions in the PATRIOT Act that are set to expire at the end of the month, a new report from the Justice Department's inspector general (IG) reveals that the FBI cannot name a single instance when information gathered through Section 215 orders solved any cases. However, the report did find that the agency has broadened the scope of information it collects for national security investigations.
The AP reports:
the FBI has expanded the categories of information sought under Section 215 in ways that continue to demand oversight, the inspector general said. Materials produced in response to Section 215 orders "now range from hard copy to reproductions of business ledgers and receipts to gigabytes of metadata and other electronic information," the report said. Technological advancements to the Internet and society's use of it "have also expanded the quantity and quality of electronic information available to the FBI," according to the report. Agents who were interviewed for the review described the Patriot Act authority as a valuable tool to develop leads and corroborate other information, but said they "did not identify any major case developments" that came from the records obtained through Section 215 orders. And in some cases, information was gathered through the surveillance on people who were not subjects of or associated with an FBI investigation, according to the report. - AP, May 21, 2015
The IG's report seems to contradict what FBI Director James Comey and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch have said about the program, suggesting that it is vital to the nation's security. Congress is currently weighing whether or not to renew provisions in the PATRIOT Act, and are on the clock to make a decision. Comey and Lynch have both said that public safety will be jeopardized if the law is allowed to expire.
The IG also found that the Justice Department did not act until 2013 to create and implement privacy rules when using Section 215 for intelligence gathering -- 7 years after it was supposed to!
Alex Abdo, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, called the inspector general's report "an indictment of the system of secret oversight" relied on as checks for FBI and NSA surveillance. "It's evidence that the kind of reform we need is not superficial tinkering with government authorities," Abdo said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It's systemic reform." - AP, May 21, 2015