back to article Remember the FBI's promise it wasn’t abusing the NSA’s data on US citizens? Well, guess what…

The FBI routinely misused a database, gathered by the NSA with the specific purpose of searching for foreign intelligence threats, by searching it for everything from vetting to spying on relatives. In doing so, it not only violated the law and the US constitution but knowingly lied to the faces of congressmen who were asking …

  1. Ole Juul

    the gang

    Given the slightest opportunity to spy on citizens, the FBI will take it, lie about it and when finally caught, promise to do better next time.

    I get the impression that the FBI makes employees denounce ethics and similar rogue ideologies.

    1. gnarlymarley Bronze badge

      Re: the gang

      I get the impression that the FBI makes employees denounce ethics and similar rogue ideologies.

      Which is why turning off end-to-end encryption might not be a good thing. There already seems to be too much data getting in the way of the FBI catching the bad guys.

      Probably similar to a bad school teacher. If you increase their salary, it does not automatically make them a good school teacher. Ethics and morals are what makes a good school teacher.

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: the gang

        Ethics and morals are what makes a good school teacher.

        Really? I would have thought that a good knowledge of the subject, enthusiasm for it, the ability to engage with and inspire students, and the skill of communicating concepts and principles would be more relevant.

        1. Teiwaz Silver badge

          Re: the gang

          Really? I would have thought that a good knowledge of the subject, enthusiasm for it, the ability to engage with and inspire students, and to communicate concepts and principles would be more relevant.

          You've been watching Dead Poets Society again, haven't you?

          That type of teacher are rare anyway, even those with just a spark have that crushed out of them after a few years.

          Also, teachers that over engage with students might be viewed with suspicion by onlookers as to being the 'P' word.

          1. Rich 11 Silver badge

            Re: the gang

            @Teiwaz:

            Not a single one of your points is an argument against what I said. A good teacher would suggest you go read over it again and look to understand the context of my response to gnarlymarley so that you can learn what it is you need to address.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: the gang

          Teach copycats, get copycats. Teach meaning, get understanding.

          1. david 12 Silver badge

            Re: the gang

            Teach copycats, get teachers. Copy teaching meaning, get total waste of time.

        3. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

          Re: the gang

          Ok... but apart from ethics, good morals, good knowledge of the subject, enthusiasm for it, the ability to engage with and inspire students, and the skill of communicating concepts and principles... what have the Teachers ever done for us?

          Wine? Viaducts? Public safety?

          1. Loatesy

            Re: the gang

            Brought Peace?

    2. crayon

      Re: the gang

      The CIA does, so I guess the FBI is the same:

      https://newspunch.com/cia-director-lied-cheated-stole-mike-pompeo/

  2. veti Silver badge

    Makes sense

    They want to catch bad guys. Statistically speaking, most of the bad guys they're interested in are US persons. They've got this huge database of information about US persons, what are they supposed to do - not use it, spend tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on gathering the same information again through other channels...?

    If I had a choice between "trying to get approval to spend two weeks of time and tens of thousands of dollars to find out whether X is dirty" and "spending half an hour to get the same information from an existing database", I wouldn't hesitate. I wouldn't think I was doing anything wrong, either. Your privacy can be invaded by a team of half a dozen agents and a full dossier created specifically on you, or it can be invaded by one guy with some SQL. Which is worse, really? (Yes, I know the latter allows 100x more people to be intruded upon more of the time. But that's not much comfort if you're one of the 1% who gets the much more detailed attention of the old approach.)

    Really what this story shows is that the regulatory system is broken, not because it's too lax (although it is), but because it's based on the assumption that "reasonable people" will ultimately agree on what's ethical and what isn't.

    1. squirrelboy

      Re: Makes sense

      "They've got this huge database of information about US persons, what are they supposed to do - not use it, spend tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on gathering the same information again through other channels...?"

      If they can't get a Warrant to use it, then absolutely YES.

      "...I wouldn't hesitate. I wouldn't think I was doing anything wrong, either."

      That is the problem. They don't think that anything is wrong with it. But if it isn't actually wrong, why to they need to lie about it? It is one thing to search the database without a Warrant, but for a Law Enforcement Agency to actively lie to Judges and Congress, under oath, is a MASSIVE issue.

      "Your privacy can be invaded by a team of half a dozen agents and a full dossier created specifically on you..."

      That is old news. The issue isn't that this database exists, or that the FBI was given access to it, the issue is that the FBI did so without a Warrant on such a massive scale and outside the scope it their access was intended for. Getting a Warrant is a fairly standard process, and for some Warrants all it takes is a phone call to a Judge. The Judge then decides if they have a good enough reason to pull information from the database, not the FBI investigators. Instead, the FBI treats the database like a phonebook instead of a set of highly privileged information they only have the right to use on a case-by-case basis with Judicial oversight.

      Due process is a big thing in the court system. If it comes out that the FBI used this information in prosecutions without a Warrant, and having lied under oath, hundreds of court cases could be thrown out.

      1. Oengus Silver badge

        Re: Makes sense

        Due process is a big thing in the court system. If it comes out that the FBI used this information in prosecutions without a Warrant, and having lied under oath, hundreds of court cases could be thrown out.

        That is assuming that they tell the truth about the source of the information during the court case. It has already been demonstrated that they are prepared to lie to judges and congress so why would you assume they would tell the truth in the court case?

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Makes sense

          One word: perjury. Don't forget the oath any witness must agree upon taking the stand: to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you {INSERT DEITY HERE}. If a witness perjures on the stand, not only is that a felony, but the entire case can be declared a mistrial as a result.

          1. lglethal Silver badge
            Stop

            Re: Makes sense

            The problem here is that you need a prosecutor to bring a case against the people who lied to the court (i.e. the FBI). But the Prosecutors are on the side of the FBI. I mean the FBI brings criminal cases to the prosecutors to try in court. So there is zero chance of a Prosecutor bringing perjury charges against a member of the FBI (especially in a leadership position), because that will absolutely hurt them later when the FBI brings sub-standard evidence to them out of revenge. Failed/No convictions means Prosecutor out of a job.

            The best we can hope for is that Congress are able to bring the axe down on the entire FBI leadership who lied before congress and to judges and cost them there jobs. The chances of anyone going to jail for lying to the courts or congress is about the same as a snowballs chance in hell...

            1. Charles 9 Silver badge

              Re: Makes sense

              "But the Prosecutors are on the side of the FBI."

              Not necessarily. All it takes is one honest United States Attorney and the whole works can start getting uncomfortable looks. Any attempt to cover it up would then (especially in today's hyperpartisanism) be seen as such and just elicit more dirty looks. Basically, if someone blows the whistle, it can bring things to a head where it's either back down or just throw the book away, in which case you're likely looking at a new Civil War.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Makes sense

                You don't think the FBI would threaten the family of some such "out of line" United States Attorney?

                What world are you living in?

                1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                  Re: Makes sense

                  "You don't think the FBI would threaten the family of some such "out of line" United States Attorney?"

                  Say he's an orphan and a bachelor(ette), or may already have one up on the FBI and a good journalist friend out of US jurisdiction?

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Makes sense

            I'm completely at a loss as to how a single word would stop people from lying through their teeth when they know they'll get away with it, even if caught. I'd like to see studies detailing the percentage of effectiveness. Looking at the news headlines over the year, it sure doesn't appear to be 100%.

          3. DoctorNine

            Re: Makes sense

            "..One word: perjury..."

            That isn't even a speed bump on the road for them. Clapper has perjured himself repeatedly, and even when given the opportunity to prosecute him for that documented fact, no one has done so. The statute of limitations timed before anything was done.

            No, these people ARE the muscle of that 'deep state' that people want to pretend doesn't exist.

        2. sbt Silver badge
          Pirate

          Discovering the chain of evidence

          The "beyond reasonable doubt" bar is high. The prosecution has to prove its evidence is legit. In demonstrating its veracity, it's hard to hide the source of the evidence from a defence attorney in the discovery process and cross-examine the prosecution's LEA witnesses under oath about how they got the evidence.

        3. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: Makes sense

          "That is assuming that they tell the truth about the source of the information during the court case."

          Well yes, if the prosecution is going to be thrown out, it'll have to be proved.

          However, right now everyone the FBI have convicted for anything over the last few years, are going to be ringing up their lawyers and asking for an appeal. So, even if not a single person goes free, they've still wasted enormous amounts of time and money that will be spent re-litigating hundreds/thousands of cases.

          1. ciaran
            Unhappy

            Only a small percentage

            Only a small percentage of cases go to court. Most accused accept a deal. You can't re-ligitate a deal.

            1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

              Re: Only a small percentage

              I'm pretty certain that for certain narrow cases you can---and that this is EXACTLY the sort of narrow case.

              Gross misconduct by the government is strongly frowned on by the courts.

              1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

                Re: Only a small percentage

                "Narrow" in this case being about 100% of the FBI cases in that time frame.

                1. Claptrap314 Silver badge
                  Unhappy

                  Re: Only a small percentage

                  Where's the crying response button? I need that.

      2. Johnnydub99

        Re: Makes sense

        "They've got this huge database of information about US persons, what are they supposed to do - not use it, spend tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on gathering the same information again through other channels...?"

        More fundamentally, what if the FBI use it to get Krompromat on judges, maybe even Supreme Court justices - what future does the Republic have then?

        1. holmegm Bronze badge

          Re: Makes sense

          "More fundamentally, what if the FBI use it to get Krompromat on judges, maybe even Supreme Court justices - what future does the Republic have then?"

          What if they already did? There was a rather significant Supreme Court case you might recall in recent memory, where the chief justice voted very surprisingly.

    2. AustinTX
      Flame

      I've always felt uncomfortable with this statement

      Slight problem: THEY DIDN'T HAVE THE RIGHT TO USE THE DATABASE THE WAY THEY DID, THEY KNEW THAT, THEY LIED UNDER OATH, AND THEY'RE LITERALLY POISED TO CONTINUE AS SOON AS THINGS COOL DOWN. Fcuk the idea that it "saves money" to spy on citizens indiscriminately. The nerve!

    3. SundogUK Bronze badge

      Re: Makes sense

      I hope you are not a US citizen, as your understanding of the US Constitution is abysmal. As a UK citizen, I know better than that.

    4. CAPS LOCK Silver badge

      Re: Makes sense

      So, nothing to hide, nothing to fear then?

      1. zuckzuckgo
        Joke

        Re: Makes sense

        As long as your name is not Biden, you have nothing to worry about.

    5. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Makes sense

      I wouldn't hesitate. I wouldn't think I was doing anything wrong, either.

      But the fact is, you *would* be doing something wrong. You would be breaking the law. Which you are sworn to uphold.

      So, if you don't like the law, change it. Or live within its requirements.

      But don't knowingly violate it, then lie about it. Because at that point, you're no better than the people you're looking for.

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: Makes sense

        No better? Much worse, a law officer gone rogue is just beyond the pale, should be hung, drawn and quartered before being burned at the stake (and the ashes dispersed in water).

    6. hairydog

      Re: Makes sense

      The basic definition of "bad guys" is people who have broken the law. So yes, this database is good at identifying the bad guys: they're the ones logging in to use it!

    7. Carpet Deal 'em Bronze badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Makes sense

      The FBI has been overstepping its bounds and abusing its power since day one. An organization that clearly hasn't changed since the days of J. Edgar Hoover shouldn't be trusted with the keys to the kingdom for even a minute.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Arrests?

    Any American citizen that was arrested and charged for any crimes related to these unlawful queries should be allowed to be set free, period.

    And every single FBI agent that abused citizens constitutional rights needs to be charged.

    As stated in the article, the constitution protects it's citizens from abuse of unlawful search and seizures.

    Not a very good look for the FBI at a time when the US president has accused them of illegal survaillance of him and his associates.

    Whether true or not I am sure these ugly truths will be used in his defense (and rightly so).

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Arrests?

      Quite correct! I look forward to the squeals of anguish from law enforcement and "tough on crimers" when people are released from the clutches of the legal system that should not have them. One of the few things I think the US legal system has compared to here in the UK is the "fruit of the poisoned tree" doctrine. I wish our courts would develop the same thing - it removes some of the incentive for investigators "doing the right thing"(!) to go around the protections that ordinary people must have. I look forward to the courts here developing it the future, as it must.

      1. Loatesy

        Re: Arrests?

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Midland#Carl_Beech_(%22Nick%22)

  4. John 104

    This sounds a lot like...

    "Given the slightest opportunity to spy on citizens, the FBI will take it, lie about it and when finally caught, promise to do better next time."

    Sounds a lot like Facebook...

    1. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Re: This sounds a lot like...

      ...the Scottish police. My parents house was raided / visited about ten times in three years due to bogus allegations by police informants in the peace movement, even though they knew I didn't live there. I'd already agreed to visit any police station on their request at any time, and gave them a full statement about the NVDA I'd been responsible for, but the allegations got wilder such as fascism and terrorism.

      I ended up sitting down with a top cop, the head of the region, just after an environmental protester had recorded Strathclyde police had tried to recruit her.

      The top cop I was talking to started with that, and I said, "Aye, that was embarrassing."

      I meant it was embarrassing for the police. He misunderstood and replied, "I know. What they don't realise is if we can do it then we will do it."

      An upfront admission that legality wasn't a concern for them.

      https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/apr/24/strathclyde-police-plane-stupid-recruit-spy

    2. Oengus Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: This sounds a lot like...

      Sounds a lot like Facebook...

      The big difference is Facebook only makes money from your information. The FBI can get you locked up in a federal prison for a lot of years.

      1. John 104
        Black Helicopters

        Re: This sounds a lot like...

        Just wait....

      2. GrumpyKiwi

        Re: This sounds a lot like...

        Or raided by a poorly trained SWAT team who will shoot you (and your family and your dog) for "resisting arrest" when you react to a 3:00am door smash in.

        Never seen Facebook (or Amazon/Google/et.Al.) manage to do that, seen law enforcement do it on a regular basis.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: This sounds a lot like...

          Ever heard of SWATting? The social networks don't need to do it when they can just trick the LEOs to do it FOR them.

  5. sbt Silver badge
    Flame

    Now imagine what it'll be like with mandated encryption back doors

    If they're not just limited to the NSA's "incidental" scoops of data, the sky's the limit!

    It's not that I'm just afraid of bad guys getting access to my back door. It seems I can't even trust the so-called good guys. Although, it seems they are also bad.

    1. SundogUK Bronze badge

      Re: Now imagine what it'll be like with mandated encryption back doors

      This is the FBI we are talking about. Recent history has proved beyond doubt that they think themselves above the law.

  6. Torchy

    That Sacoolas moment when you are caught red handed............

    1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

      What we have here...

      Is a moment in time, a slight inconvenience but soon will all be forgotten like so many other inconvenient matters that never seem to result in any kind of repercussions ever.

      Sure, it'll stick in public consciousness but will soon be joined by other crimes that become the latest outrage and things will move on.

      It's also becoming more clear that we're just not paranoid enough when it comes to these sorts of things.

  7. deevee

    AND in typical denial fashion, they declare China is the threat, because US communication gear can spy for the FBI/NSA etc, and Huawei/Chinese gear WILL not.

  8. Chris G Silver badge

    The Untouchables

    In the film were supposedly above bribery and corruption, whereas the FBI today think they have carte blanche to achieve their ends without consequence.

  9. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    As ever...

    As ever, I'm surprised why anyone is surprised by this. Of course they f*****g lied. Based on their previous, why would anyone believe anything these "security services" say.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: As ever...

      So if the rioters come knocking, it's basically YOYO like the Korean storekeepers in the LA Riots?

    2. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      Re: As ever...

      No-one here is surprised - but as with the Snowden files - proof of lying is always welcome and worthy of mention.

  10. Harry Stottle

    Given J Edgar Hoover...

    and the way in which the first head of the FBI used illegally obtained and retained data for several decades to blackmail presidents, hide his own (then illegal and poilitically sensitive) sexuality and extend his own reign way beyond the limits for public employees, it's hardly surprising that his successors have learned that they're big enough to do whatever the fuck they want; both to the law and to the little people...

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Given J Edgar Hoover...

      What do you mean "hide"? It was already a public secret at that time he was a confirmed bachelor, which was the euphemistic term for homosexual since before the reign of queen Victoria.

  11. sum_of_squares
    Boffin

    Opportunity costs..

    Let's be honest: Which government does NOT grab as much data as possible?

    You can't afford to play nice these days, cyber warfare is real theses days.

    That said I'm not a fan of data grabbing. But we need a structural change which makes it impossible (or at least hard enough) to get user data that easily. And we still have a long way to go here, the vast majority of computer users neither has the knowledge nor do they really care for security concerns.

    Don't hate the player, hate the game. If people are stupid, don't blame agencies to make use of the low hanging fruits, because other agencies WILL use the data..

    1. julian.smith

      Re: Opportunity costs..

      I don't blame Americans for being stupid - they've got form.

      Their last away win was Grenada?

      The world is laughing at their "very stable genius"

  12. Christoph Silver badge

    That's terrible

    You mean they are treating American Citizens in the same way that they have given themselves the right to treat every other person in the world?

    As if American Citizens were just ordinary people? Not shining examples to the rest of the world of what they ought to be aspiring to but obviously can never be because they are not American Citizens?

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: That's terrible

      or rather

      "As if American Citizens were protected by some kind of legal document"

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: That's terrible

        I thought that's why they had guns - to protect them from government.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Proces Question. Answer: "Completely illegal....end to end"

    "...a database, gathered by the NSA..."

    "...the FBI was breaking the law and the constitution..."

    *

    No comments here about whether the DATABASE ITSELF WAS ASSEMBLED LEGALLY!!!!!

    *

    My take is that the whole process, end to end, was illegal.....data gathering by the NSA, data use by the NSA, data use by the FBI, data use by who knows who....yet to be disclosed.

    *

    You know you are in serious trouble when THERE ARE NO GOOD GUYS!

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Proces Question. Answer: "Completely illegal....end to end"

      You know you are in serious trouble when THERE ARE NO GOOD GUYS!

      O? How about Edward Snowden? Him being called a bad guy by this proven set of bad guys most definitely raises the odds of him being a good guy to way better than fifty/fifty. And I seem to remember something about a good girl doing time in Leavenworth.

  14. one crazy media

    Once you cede your rights to the government, you are never, ever going to get it back peacefully.

    Big brother is watching you everywhere like the Chinese government in the name of terrorism.

    Nets question is who benefits from terrorism, governments to keep citizens in perpetual fear and control.

    Welcome to the new world!

  15. Gnoitall
    Black Helicopters

    We're living in Blade Runner now, except for the flying cars

    You know the score, pal! If you're not cop, you're little people.

    And rules are for little people.

    1. zuckzuckgo

      Re: We're living in Blade Runner now, except for the flying cars

      So does the database include our "retirement" dates?

  16. JoMe

    Oh noes, lies from the feds...

    Whod've thunk it!?!?

  17. sisk Silver badge

    If you're surprised by this news, I've got a bridge to sell you....

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Only a bridge? I've got a nice, white house for sale ;)

      Seems the last guy to buy it has some problems of his own.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm surprised that no one has mentioned "parallel construction". PC is when the FBI has a suspect for a crime, and have difficulty assembling enough evidence to arrest or convict. They have been able to go to this database and search it for incriminating evidence - gathered in a way that they cannot legally use. So if they find something they can use, they need to find a way to show that they obtained this information via lawful means. So they construct a method whereby they found the information legitimately - that's the parallel construction.

    I'm not sure of the validity of the source, but apparently many hundreds or even thousands of cases have been resolved using PC, which is nominally illegal. If exposed a lot of genuine federal criminal cases may well collapse.

    And just for all those who seem to be assuming that because they're not American that this doesn't apply to them, do you really think that your country's intelligence services aren't doing exactly the same ? Really ? And the chances of that coming out publicly are probably a lot lower than in the US where there at least are some constitutional safeguards, even if often ignored.

    1. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Chris Morris, the best English satirist, is getting good press for his new movie "The Day Shall Come".

      After an attempt to frame a man for a terrorist bombing goes wrong, Agent Kendra Glack of the FBI comes across one of Moses's live-streamed sermons, and decides that he will make the perfect patsy to pin criminal activities on. The FBI plan to arrest Moses after misleading him into committing a criminal act, making them look successful for capturing a dangerous revolutionary.

  19. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    The good news is that Director of the FBI assures us that his people can be trusted with this backdoor into encryption he keeps asking for.

  20. C_D

    Why are they even keeping the data? They should just give it to Facebook - at least they try hard to keep it secure (while simultaneously increasing shareholder value using it)

  21. Alistair Silver badge
    Windows

    Just look at all the horrible pedofiles and terrorists we've convicted and jailed based on our access to this database!

    Oh, wait, right.

    (twice in one week no less!)

  22. pm9dcr

    has the lawless stopped under Christopher Wray?

    As troubling as the information is, it begs the question; is the lawlessness continuing under Christopher Wray's lack of leadership?

  23. sitta_europea Bronze badge

    The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019