Report: FBI Use of Controversial Surveillance Program Declined After Snowden Revelations

Edward Snowden addresses an ACLU-sponsored event in Hawaii / AP
September 29, 2016

The FBI has significantly scaled back its collection of Americans’ phone records since Edward Snowden exposed the government’s surveillance program in 2013, according to a new report.

The number of FBI "business records orders" approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court dropped 20 percent over the span of three years between 2012 and 2014, according to the Justice Department’s inspector general. Such orders allow the FBI to legally gain access to citizens’ phone records without capturing the content of the communications.

The FISA court in 2012 secretly approved a record-high of 212 business records orders. A year later, Snowden leaked FISA’s order to Verizon to handover all of its telephone data to the National Security Agency on an "ongoing daily business." The revelations led to a notable decline in business records orders, falling to 179 approved in 2013 and 170 in 2014.

The number of orders approved by FISA further fell in 2015, with just 142 approved, marking a more than 30 percent drop from 2012.

A Justice Department official attributed the program’s decline to the "stigma" attached to its date collection capabilities following Snowden’s revelations.

Another department official said the FBI’s increased use of different surveillance tools may have also played a role. The bureau has increasingly used tools allowing it to collect emails and other electronic information from technology companies including Facebook and Google.

Snowden’s surveillance revelations also forced Congress to end bulk collection by the government.