FBI obtained cellphone data of lawmakers during Capitol riots; Hawley questions legality

Shortly after the Capitol riot last month, the FBI began vacuuming cellphone data on thousands of people who were at or near the scene, an electronic dragnet that included collecting information on some members of Congress.

Now, that data collection effort is being questioned for its legality and constitutionality.

According to reports, the FBI used emergency authorities, which ostensibly permit the bureau to mass-collect data without first obtaining a warrant. In doing so, “the FBI has collected reams of private cellphone data and communications that go beyond the videos that rioters shared widely on social media,” The Intercept reported, citing two sources familiar with the investigation.

Beginning within hours of the riot and stretching over the next several days, investigators also obtained “data dumps” from local cellphone towers to learn who was in the vicinity of the Capitol. The emergency powers allow the FBI to trace phone records but not to learn the content of those calls.

(Source: Fox News)

But included in those data dumps are the phone records of several lawmakers and their staffs, and FBI investigators are using the information to map any links to suspects who were at the Capitol, to include members of Congress, sources told The Intercept.

Previous reports stated the FBI collected cellphone data as part of its investigation to identify alleged suspects who engaged in criminal activity on Jan. 6. But those reports did not say that lawmakers’ information was also obtained or that some members of Congress may be suspects themselves.

About a week after the riot, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) suggested that some lawmakers had provided a “reconnaissance” tour of the Capitol for people who may then have participated in storming the building. The Intercept reported that Capitol Police are said to be investigating any possible links between lawmakers and the rioters. 

In addition, Politico quoted acting U.S. attorney in Washington, Michael Sherwin, in a Jan. 12 report in which he said his office had “organized a strike force of very senior national security prosecutors and public corruption prosecutors.” That “indicates a focus on public officials, i.e. Capitol Police and members of Congress,” a retired senior FBI official told The Intercept.

In an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, Missouri GOP Sen. Josh Hawley, a former state attorney general, questioned the legality of the FBI’s mass data collection effort following the riot.

“I’m not sure that it is legal, and I have to say it’s unbelievable to read the stuff in the press,” Hawley said, adding that lawmakers are only now learning that their cellphone data was collected based on a handful of media reports that have revealed it.

“Our law enforcement agencies should be tracking down criminals,” Hawley continued, “they should be bringing them to justice, they should be prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law.

“The issue here is that we’ve seen this movie before,” he added. “We’ve seen these law enforcement agencies go way over and above and sweep in law-abiding activity.”

He went on to note that U.S. corporations including Bank of America have also turned over data to the FBI without informing customers.

“This is really, really frightening stuff, and to those who say we need a new domestic war on terror that will give even more unaccountability to these law enforcement agencies without any kind of oversight — that is a scary prospect,” said Hawley.

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Jon Dougherty

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