FBI Director Christopher Wray said Thursday he cannot “be sure” whether Facebook is sending the agency user information without being compelled to do so, an act that would violate the law.
Wray’s remark in response to a question from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) comes after Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee released a report (pdf) in early November in which a whistleblower suggested that the FBI has a “special relationship” with Facebook “in which it accepts private user information without any consent or legal process.”
The move is part of a program “likely codenamed ‘Operation Bronze Griffin,’” said the report. It alleges that the types of user content that Facebook provides the FBI “have a partisan focus, tending only to concern users from one side of the political spectrum,” and that there is a pro-Democrat bias within the FBI.
On Thursday, Paul asked Wray at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on the report’s allegations, “Is Facebook or any other social media company supplying private messages or data on American users that is not compelled by the government or the FBI?”
“Not compelled, in other words, not in response to legal process?” Wray queried.
“No warrant, no subpoena, they’re just supplying you information on their users?” Paul said.
“I don’t believe so,” Wray responded. “But I can’t sit here and be sure about that as I as I sit here.”
Paul told Wray that if Facebook is supplying the FBI with user information, it would be against the law—the Stored Communications Act, part of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986—which “prohibits providers from sharing electronic communications with any person or entity, unless it’s compelled.”
“This was done to protect the privacy of people, so we could feel like we can send an email or direct message to people without having that information given over,” Paul said.