WASHINGTON — FBI Director Christopher Wray said Thursday he can’t “be certain” whether Facebook is sending the bureau user information without official requests — after a recent report alleged the social media giant is flagging up information with a “partisan” slant.
House Judiciary Committee Republicans claimed earlier this month that the FBI receives “private user information from Facebook, but without the user’s consent or the legal process the FBI would otherwise have to independently pursue such user-related information.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) asked Wray during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing in regards to the alleged partnership — named within the House report, based partly on whistleblower claims of pro-Democratic bias throughout the FBI, as “Operation Bronze Griffin.”
“Is Facebook or another social media company supplying private messages or data on American users that just isn’t compelled by the federal government or the FBI?” Paul asked Wray.
“Not compelled — in other words, not in response to the legal process?” Wray replied.
“No warrant, no subpoena — they’re just supplying you information on their users?” Paul clarified.
“I don’t consider so. But I can’t sit here and be certain of that as I sit here,” Wray said.
A recent report alleged that Meta is flagging up information with a “partisan” slant.
FBI Director Christopher Wray couldn’t confirm if Facebook is sending the bureau user information without official requests.
“Are you able to give us a yes or no by going back to your team and asking?” Paul insisted. “Since it’s a really specific query because in the event that they are, it’s against the law — the law, the Stored Communications Act, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, prohibits providers from sharing electronic communications with any person or entity unless it’s compelled.
“This was done to guard the privacy of individuals, so we are able to feel like we are able to send an email or direct message to people without having that information given over.
“It’s a really specific query,” Paul continued. “Will you get together with your team of lawyers and provides us a selected answer? Because that is the law. In the event you’re doing it, then we’d like to go to court to forestall you from receiving this information.”
“Well, I can inform you that I’m quite confident we’re following the law,” Wray said. “But I can even follow up with you to be sure that that we get more information, more detailed information.”
There’s some legal fuzziness in relation to firms handing over user information as a result of various court rulings over the past decade on law enforcement collection of records voluntarily shared with firms.
Federal officials have been coy before about domestic surveillance operations.
Then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper denied in March 2013 that the National Security Agency was collecting “any sort of data in any respect on thousands and thousands or lots of of thousands and thousands of Americans” when asked by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
“No, sir,” Clapper said. “Not wittingly.”
Former press secretary Psaki said last 12 months that the White House was “flagging” alleged misinformation to Facebook.AP
Months later, whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA was mass-collecting domestic call records while also “partnering” with major tech firms to accumulate user data through a program called PRISM.
The FBI wouldn’t confirm or deny the existence of Operation Bronze Griffin, but denied being politically biased in an announcement earlier this month.
“Put quite simply: we follow the facts without regard for politics,” an FBI spokesperson told The Post. “While outside opinions and criticism often include the job, we’ll proceed to follow the facts wherever they lead, do things by the book, and speak through our work.”
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone, a former Democratic staffer who announced plans in 2020 to cut back distribution of The Post’s scoops on documents from Hunter Biden’s laptop, also declined to verify or deny the existence of Operation Bronze Griffin following the House report.
“On whether [Operation Bronze Griffin] exists, I’d refer you to the FBI,” Stone said, adding: “Any suggestion we hunt down peoples’ private information on a partisan basis to supply it to the FBI is fake and there may be zero evidence to support it.”
Individually, The Intercept on Oct. 31 exposed a web-based gateway through which authorities with a government or law enforcement email address reportedly can request the removal of “misinformation” from Facebook or Instagram.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told The Post that West Wing staff don’t use the Facebook portal, although her predecessor Jen Psaki said last 12 months that the White House was “flagging” alleged misinformation to the corporate.
The Intercept reported that content flagged by the Department of Homeland Security through the portal included “parody accounts or accounts with virtually no followers or influence.”
Civil libertarians, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been accused of being too quiet about recent online censorship, blasted the Facebook portal as a probable violation of Americans’ free speech rights, tweeting, “The First Amendment bars the federal government from deciding for us what’s true or false, online or anywhere.”