The Senate Committee on the Judiciary is demanding the Department of Justice cough up answers in response to a steady stream of allegations that various federal law enforcement agencies spied on Americans’ cell phones for years and misled Congress about what they were doing.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy sent their third letter since June calling on the DOJ to reveal its questionable cell phone surveillance policies, after yet another whistleblower allegation of abuse.
A new whistleblower alleges from 2004 to 2006 the U.S. Marshals tested cell phone spy equipment on innocent Americans in at least three different cities without a warrant.
“Specifically, the devices were reportedly employed from airplanes that interacted with the signals of real cell-phones and captured their serial numbers – all without seeking a court order and without targeting a fugitive,” the letter reads. “If true, this report raises additional concerns and is not consistent with the USMS’ previous representations about these devices.”
Grassley is also calling for answers after a series of recent reports that the FBI commands a fleet of domestic spy planes.
Grassley recently called on FBI Director James Comey to explain how much he is invading Americans’ privacy with the fleet.
The spy plane investigation was catalyzed after The Washington Post reported that the FBI used spying aircraft to monitor Baltimore while the Freddie Gray riots raged. Grassley pointed to similar reports in Chicago, Boston, California and the Minneapolis–Saint Paul.
An Associated Press investigation revealed the FBI operates dozens of small spy planes around the country. The report found the FBI had performed over 100 flights in 11 states over cities and rural areas during a 30-day period. (RELATED: FBI Fleet Of Planes Spy On Americans Across The Country)
The FBI says the flights are used to gain intelligence information for investigations. These surveillance flights are criticized for capturing video footage and in some cases using cell-site simulating devices that can collect cell phone data from thousands of innocent people.
“It’s not a secret that the FBI is operating in the skies above our nation’s cities and towns, but what’s unclear is precisely what the bureau is doing and what legal framework is being used to guide its activity,” Grassley said in an earlier letter. “It’s important that federal law enforcement personnel have the tools they need to find and catch criminals, but whenever an operation may also monitor the activities of Americans who are not the intended target, as several media reports suggest, we must make darn sure that safeguards are in place to protect the civil liberties of innocent Americans.”
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