The FBI Spied on the Wrong People Because of Typos

The J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington. The J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington. Flickr user Norman Maddeaux

The FBI unintentionally spied on the communications data of some Americans who were not targets of investigations because of typographical errors, according to a government watchdog.

The Justice Department's inspector general concluded in a report Thursday that the bureau has improved its overall handling of national security letters, which permit the agency to collect telephone and Internet data of suspects believed to be tied to a national security investigation.

But the inspector general identified a number of areas that "require additional effort and attention," such as a tendency to collect data on the wrong person because of routine mistakes.

"We found that the FBI's corrective measures have not completely eliminated potential intelligence violations resulting from typographical errors in the identification of a telephone number, email address, or social security number in an NSL," the report reads. "These typographical errors cause the FBI to request and, in some instances receive, the information of someone other than the intended target of the NSL."

The FBI has fulfilled 23 of 28 prior recommendations issued by the inspector general, according to the new report, which looked at the national security letter program from 2007 to 2009. Among those improvements are better guidance and training to FBI personnel, a new record-keeping practice, and periodic reviews of how national security letters are used.

Additionally, a footnote in the public version of the report says that the inspector general believed the FBI demanded too many redactions in the 232-page unclassified report.

"We disagree with these markings, which have the effect of redacting information that we believe is important to the public's understanding of the FBI's compliance with NSL requirements," the footnote reads. It added that some of the blackouts involved information that "is the same as or substantially similar to" information included in previous reports on national security letters.

Two earlier reports have been released by the Justice Department that have examined its use of national security letters, which do not require a judge's approval. In general, the FBI bars companies, such as Google or Facebook, that receive requests for user data under national security letters from discussing them publicly.

(Image via Flickr user Norman Maddeaux)

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.