In 2020, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), embarrassed by the many lapses uncovered by Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, ordered the FBI to take steps to ensure greater consistency and accuracy in its Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications. How have the Bureau’s efforts progressed? As we reported in September of that year, the FBI was developing a new system, known as “the Bridge,” that would increase collaboration within the FBI, as well as between the FBI and the DOJ Office of Intelligence, to improve compliance with the law on surveillance. The Bridge will automatically cross-reference new data with existing data in FBI’s current case-management system, Sentinel.
The Bridge was slated to be completed around the end of 2021. Two years later, the Bridge is reportedly nearing completion and will finally be ready by the end of this year. The FISA Court ordered the FBI to provide quarterly updates about the status of the Bridge’s development. Now, PPSA has learned from documents supplied in response to Freedom of Information Act requests that the FBI has decided that it no longer wants to provide the court with updates on the development of its technology.
The FBI recently delivered a motion for relief to the court to be relieved from having to submit these two-page reports. Instead, the FBI wants to notify the court whenever “the Bridge has completed its long-term testing and has been fully implemented,” or when “there are any substantive updates to report.” This mode of reporting is not a good sign for the court’s imposition of an oversight obligation on the FBI, allowing the Bureau to decide when and how it wants to comply with the FISA Court.
Thus, a quarterly two-page report constitutes an unbearable onus for the FBI. When the Bridge is already years late and the FBI has a track record of failing to hold itself accountable, can we really trust the agency to do its due diligence without renewed oversight?