FBI Director Cannot ‘Be Sure’ Whether Facebook Is Sending User Information to Agents

Mimi Nguyen Ly
By Mimi Nguyen Ly
November 18, 2022Science & Techshare
FBI Director Cannot ‘Be Sure’ Whether Facebook Is Sending User Information to Agents
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington on March 10, 2022. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

FBI Director Christopher Wray said Thursday he cannot “be sure” whether Facebook is sending the agency user information without being compelled to do so, an act that would violate the law.

Wray’s remark in response to a question from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) comes after Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee released a report (pdf) in early November in which a whistleblower suggested that the FBI has a “special relationship” with Facebook “in which it accepts private user information without any consent or legal process.”

The move is part of a program “likely codenamed ‘Operation Bronze Griffin,'” said the report. It alleges that the types of user content that Facebook provides the FBI “have a partisan focus, tending only to concern users from one side of the political spectrum,” and that there is a pro-Democrat bias within the FBI.

On Thursday, Paul asked Wray at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on the report’s allegations, “Is Facebook or any other social media company supplying private messages or data on American users that is not compelled by the government or the FBI?”

“Not compelled, in other words, not in response to legal process?” Wray queried.

“No warrant, no subpoena, they’re just supplying you information on their users?” Paul said.

“I don’t believe so,” Wray responded. “But I can’t sit here and be sure about that as I as I sit here.”

Paul told Wray that if Facebook is supplying the FBI with user information, it would be against the law—the Stored Communications Act, part of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986—which “prohibits providers from sharing electronic communications with any person or entity, unless it’s compelled.”

“This was done to protect the privacy of people, so we could feel like we can send an email or direct message to people without having that information given over,” Paul added.

NTD Photo
A person watches on a smartphone Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveil the META logo in Los Angeles on Oct. 28, 2021. (Chris Delmas/AFP via Getty Images)

“It’s a very specific question,” the senator told Wray. “Will you get with your team of lawyers and give us a specific answer? Because this is the law, if you’re doing it, then we need to go to court to prevent you from receiving this information.”

“Well, I can tell you that I’m quite confident we’re following the law but I will also follow up with you to make sure that we get you more information, more detailed information,” Wray said.

The senator followed up with another question: “Is the FBI obtaining anonymous social media data, and then using technical methods to pierce the anonymous nature of the data? … Are you purchasing what is said to be anonymous data through the marketplace, and then piercing the anonymous nature to attach individual names to that data?”

Sen. Rand Paul
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) speaks during the COVID-19 Federal Response Hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 16, 2022. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“So the manner in which we use—we usually use the term commercial data—is probably longer than I could explain here,” the FBI chief responded.

“So you will not answer the question of whether or not you’re attaching names to anonymous data,” Paul said.

“I think it’s a more complicated answer than I can give here.”

Paul also asked whether the FBI has been circumventing the law by using confidential human sources. Wray responded, “I think what we have had situations where we have confidential human sources—not employees of those companies—but who report to us on their own communication.”

Paul responded: “Once again, I’d like to get the answer to be more specific from your team. Not that I don’t believe so. But you are not using human confidential resources within Facebook? So we get back to the idea of whether or not you’re getting information for them outside the warrant process.

“Because the question, the next question is, which you probably won’t answer either, is, are you taking information that you’re getting not through the warrant process, and then going around and coming back and using that as a predicate for getting a warrant to actually get the information you’ve already been given?”

When Wray said he did not understand the question, Paul explained: “Are you getting information [Facebook is] giving to you, they say, oh, ‘somebody says January 6 was great, here’s information on this guy,’ then you’re taking it and then using it as a predicate to say, ‘Well, now let’s go to the court and get a real warrant and get the information we already actually got without a warrant.'”

FBI seal
The FBI seal is seen outside the headquarters building in Washington on July 5, 2016. (Yuri Gripas/AFP via Getty Images)

After some back-and-forth, Wray told Paul that one common instance involves the FBI giving Facebook information about foreign accounts, such as Russian intelligence service accounts, and Facebook will “look in their system for those accounts … find other accounts related to those and they provide tips and leads back to us about those.”

A second common instance would be “where a technology company encounters a threat of violence, on their platform on their services, and they provide tips and leads to us and [FBI agents] follow up.”

Paul asked whether the FBI is receiving things that “could be interpreted” as political speech, such as “someone who questions the election … someone who is mad about something that is going on, it’s not saying they’re directly going to commit violence, they’re mad about things.”

“Whistleblowers are saying you are receiving this information from Facebook and others, and that you are going around the Constitution and to come back and try to get warrants for it,” Paul said.

Wray responded, “We investigate violence, not speech.”

According to the House Judiciary Committee report, whistleblowers have said that the FBI “is pressuring agents to reclassify cases as domestic violent extremism (DVE), but it appears the FBI is also manufacturing DVE cases where they may not otherwise exist and even manipulating its case categorization system to feign a national problem.”

In a statement, a Meta representative told The Epoch Times: “As you may have seen, we’ve previously strongly denied claims that we seek out peoples’ private messages for anti-government language or questions about the validity of past elections and then proactively supply those to the FBI.”

The Department of Justice for comment did not respond to a request for comment from The Epoch Times.

Update: This article has been updated with a statement from a Meta representative.

From The Epoch Times

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