Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, grilled FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday concerning the bureau’s collection of American citizens’ personal data.
During the exchange, which took place during Wray’s appearance before the House Judiciary Committee, Jayapal warned that the FBI could face a “very difficult” process to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) if the bureau couldn’t ensure Americans’ privacy is being protected.
“I do want to focus on some areas of concern around Americans’ civil liberties that I have had long-standing concerns about,” Jayapal told Wray as she began her questioning. The congresswoman noted testimony he gave the Senate Intelligence Committee in March that the FBI doesn’t currently purchase commercial data on U.S. citizens, but also referenced a declassified report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) that said the opposite.
She then asked Wray how the FBI uses the data it purchases.
“Respectfully, this is a topic that gets very involved to explain. And so what I would prefer to do is have our subject-matter experts come back up and brief you, and they can answer your questions in detail about it because there’s a lot of confusion that can be unintentionally caused about this topic,” Wray responded.
“But does the FBI purchase data?” Jayapal asked.
Wray said his testimony that the FBI doesn’t purchase data is the same, regardless of what the ODNI report said. “But again, there is a lot of precision and technical dimensions to this,” he added.
“Well, I do appreciate that. But I am looking at a report that is from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence saying that the FBI purchases data,” Jayapal said.
“I understand that,” Wray said.
Jayapal asked if the FBI’s contracts it has with data brokers, from whom the ODNI report she referenced said the bureau purchased data, provided location data.
“My testimony about purchasing commercial database information that includes location data derived from internet advertising remains the same, which is that we currently do not do that,” Wray responded, repeating his answer.
Jayapal asked if the data the FBI had already purchased contained location data.
“Again, I’m not trying to be obtuse or difficult here. I just know from experience that the more you drill into this whole issue of commercial data, geolocation data, etc., that it gets very involved. In some cases it involves pilot projects that are in the past, in some cases it involves national security information, etc., so I just want to make sure that we get you the information you need,” Wray said.
Jayapal responded she would “take that,” but said it was “an extremely important issue for the American people to understand how their data is being used,” including location, biometric, medical, mental health, communications and internet activity data.
“While I understand that that’s complicated, that is the reason that you come before us, so that the American people can hear this,” she said.
Jayapal went on to question Wray about any written policies the FBI might have to outline “how it can purchase and use commercially available information,” but Wray insisted his response would be part of the same briefing he offered in his previous answer.
Jayapal cited a Supreme Court case that found it was “a violation of the Fourth Amendment for the government to access historical location data without a warrant,” and said she would follow up with Wray on whether the FBI had a written policy on how it interprets that decision.
“This is a critically important issue for the American people to understand. We have bipartisan support around FISA reauthorization and the concerns we have around FISA reauthorization. And unless we really understand what measures the FBI is taking to ensure that people’s privacy is protected, I think it’s going to be a very difficult reauthorization process. I’m sure you know that,” Jayapal said.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, thanked Jayapal for her questioning, calling it “well said.”
A number of House Republicans are urging Congress not to renew FISA when it expires at the end of this year, a move those lawmakers say would curb the government’s ability to spy on U.S. citizens.