The FBI has at its disposal “hundreds of millions of dollars” for developing technology to use in both national security and domestic law enforcement investigations, including surveillance. But, the FBI won’t release that information to the public.
In December 2015, the FBI’s Operational Technology Division budget was somewhere between $600 and $800 million, according to The Washington Post, but officials reportedly declined confirmation of the exact amount.
According to The Intercept:
“Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI James Burrell spoke about the secretive budget of the Operational Technology Division — which focuses on all the bureau’s advanced investigative gizmos, from robots to surveillance tech to biometric scanners during a roundtable discussion on encryption technology.
Burrell said the FBI divides its technical focuses into two areas: core IT capabilities, and the Operational Technology Division, which devotes resources to researching and developing technology ‘specifically for use in investigations.’”
Burrell continued, providing a commonly used, yet vague statement, arguing the division’s budget needed to be put “into context.” He indicated that resources are divided between tools developed for national security investigations and those used for domestic law enforcement. “Sometimes we’re not able to use the technology we develop for one side equally on the other,” because some technology is classified, Burrell insisted.
The FBI has endeavored to keep evidence acquired from its advanced, national security technology hidden from court proceedings which involve domestic investigations, including Stingrays. The FBI has gone so far as to toss out legal prosecutions in order to obscure its technical capabilities.
Naturally, this has raised the ire of transparency advocates. “Of all kinds of government secrecy, budget secrecy is the least defensible,” says Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy, which is run by the Federation of American Scientists. Aftergood also argued that publishing the budget is required by the Constitution.
On top of that, the FBI has requested over $100 million dollars for its operational technology division and cyber division for 2017. That would drive the grand total that much closer to a billion dollars — if the Washington Post‘s figure is accurate. Thirty-eight million, by the way, will go towards countering problems (as the FBI sees it) that arise during investigations of people using encryption and other anonymity software.
The Intercept reports that, according to Aftergood, “Agencies often prefer not to divulge budget in order keep some programs below the radar, or because keeping the amounts secret ‘helps to obscure large increases or decreases in funding that could attract unwanted attention,’” he said. “But spending levels do not reveal operational information — about targets, or capabilities, or vulnerabilities — and therefore they should almost always be disclosed,” he concluded.
Another, related, controversial move was thwarted last week when the Senate came close (just two votes shy) to agreeing to permit the FBI to track Americans online without any oversight or due process. This amendment to a federal spending bill, sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), would have allowed the FBI to monitor email and website visits without needing a warrant.
The FBI’s lack of transparency also extends to the FBI classifying the Tor Browser exploit it used in a recent mass arrest. According to Motherboard, the FBI cited national security as the reason for this action. Mozilla, whose code a good portion of the Tor Browser is based on, requested that the FBI identify the exploit the agency used to install location-tracking malware on users’ computers. The request was initially approved but then thrown out by a judge in Washington state who reversed his decision when the Department of Justice succeeded in convincing him that the exploit was a matter of national security.
‘“The FBI has derivatively classified portions of the tool, the exploits used in connection with the tool, and some of the operational aspects of the tool in accordance with the FBI’s National Security Information Classification Guide,’ the government’s attorneys wrote in a filing made in response to one of the defendants earlier this month. As Motherboard points out, the FBI originally wanted to classify their reasons for not handing over the exploit, rather than the exploit itself. That filing has been amended and is simply waiting on a signature from the FBI Original Classification Authority to confirm it will be hidden from public view. While experts believe the national security excuse is tenuous, the Department of Justice does have a recorded history of classifying inappropriate information. A 2013 report from the DOJ’s own office of the Inspector General revealed several documents in which ‘unclassified information was inappropriately identified as being classified.’
If the FBI is successful in classifying their exploit tool, it would make it difficult to verify that their evidence, which affects over 1,500 related cases, was obtained through legal means. On the other hand, a legal loophole set in place by the Classified Information Procedures Act could allow the defense teams in these cases to review certain classified materials, although that’s not guaranteed.”
And, the icing on the cake? The FBI can still spy on you even if you’re using Tor. When the FBI, along with Denmark and Chile, was able to catch 1,500 pedophiles during the joint operation which produced the mass arrests, a court found that no Fourth Amendment violation occurred because “the Government did not need a warrant to capture Defendant’s IP address,” according to the ruling (PDF). “Generally, one has no reasonable expectation of privacy in an IP address when using the internet.”
The judge said that an internet user who utilizes the Tor network to mask their IP address “lacks a reasonable expectation of privacy” in their IP address.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has warned that this latest court ruling is “dangerously flawed.” And, the EFF is also of the opinion that the decision will be upheld on appeal. “The implications for the decision, if upheld, are staggering: law enforcement would be free to remotely search and seize information from your computer, without a warrant, without probable cause, or without any suspicion at all,” says the EFF.
Written by: Sneacker
(Security Affairs – FBI, surveillance)