FBI access to surveillance program expands in recent years

The FBI has taken a more active role in the NSA's Prism program since 2008, according to an internal report

U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation access to overseas surveillance collected by sister organization the National Security Agency has expanded in recent years, with the law enforcement agency gaining access to collected but unprocessed data in 2009, according to a report released by the government.

The FBI's access to email and other data collected from overseas targets in the NSA's Prism program has been growing since 2008, according to a 2012 U.S. Department of Justice inspector general's report declassified last Friday by the DOJ. The agency made the highly redacted inspector general's report public in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the New York Times.

In 2008, the FBI began reviewing email accounts targeted by the NSA through the Prism program, according to the report and a New York Times story.

Then, in October 2009, the FBI requested that information collected under the Prism program be "dual routed" to both the NSA and the FBI so that the FBI "could retain this data for analysis and dissemination in intelligence reports," according to the IG's report.

And in April 2012, the FBI began nominating email addresses and phone numbers that the NSA should target in it surveillance program, according to the document.

The IG's report, however, concluded that the FBI took a responsible approach toward the surveillance program. The FBI's Prism team "implemented its targeting procedures with commendable deliberation, thoroughness and professionalism," the report said.

The NSA's Prism program targets email messages and other digital communications by people outside the U.S. in an effort to deter terrorism. The NSA reportedly accessed the networks of Google, Yahoo, Apple and other Internet companies to gain access to users' communications, although some companies have insisted that they were not willing partners in the surveillance programs, as original leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden suggested.

The Prism program isn't supposed to target U.S. communications, but some domestic communications are inadvertently collected, according to oversight reports.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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