Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz released a long-awaited report this week detailing the FBI’s use of bulk data collection, revealing that although the agency has greatly increased its use of this data, no major terrorism cases were cracked using information gleaned from the controversial program. The 77-page inspector general’s report found that the FBI tripled their bulk-data requests from 2004 to 2009, using their new authority “to obtain large collections of metadata”, such as “electronic communication transactional information.”
The FBI was granted the authority to collect business, medical, educational, and tax records as well as other “tangible things” relevant to counter-terrorism or espionage investigations under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Yet despite these large collections of data, the report states that “the agents we interviewed did not identify any major case developments that resulted from use of the records obtained in response to Section 215 orders.”
Section 215 is set to expire at the end of this month, and the inspector general’s report adds to the ongoing debate in Congress over whether to renew or amend the law. “This report adds to the mounting evidence that Section 215 has done little to protect Americans and should be put to rest,” American Civil Liberties Union Staff Attorney Alex Abdo said. The House have passed an amended version, known as the USA Freedom Act, which would limit the government’s bulk collection powers, but Senate Republicans are fighting to renew Section 215 as is.