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A growing number of lawmakers are demanding information on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's use of airplanes to conduct surveillance flights over U.S. cities.
More than a dozen House members wrote to FBI Director James Comey on Friday inquiring about the scope of the surveillance, including any instances in which authorities captured data without a search warrant.
"We realize that the FBI routinely assists local law enforcement authorities in surveillance for ongoing investigations and at the request of the local law enforcement agency," the 14 lawmakers wrote.
"However, it appears that many of the aerial surveillance operations go beyond local law enforcement and in fact, use cellphone data capture devices to monitor potential suspects.”
The letter was signed by Rep. Loretta Lynch (D-Calif.), Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashDemocrats defend Afghan withdrawal amid Taliban advance Vietnam shadow hangs over Biden decision on Afghanistan Kamala Harris and our shameless politics MORE (R-Mich.) and 12 other House members. Sixteen other lawmakers wrote Comey on Thursday, citing the "highly disturbing" surveillance.
That was in addition to a letter sent this week by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleySenate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Voting rights and Senate wrongs Swalwell slams House Republican for touting funding in bill she voted down MORE (R-Iowa) and another from Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenMeet the Democrats' last best hope of preserving a House majority Franken rules out challenge against Gillibrand for Senate seat Franken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour MORE (D-Minn.). Franken's letter also went to the Justice Department.
The pressure came hours after an Associated Press report Tuesday morning detailed more than 100 flights by the FBI in the past few weeks in 11 states across the country, with the planes tied to fake companies.
The AP reported that the planes captured scenes below, as well as information from cellphone towers, which officials said happens only rarely. The surveillance flights were first revealed by a citizen journalist.
The FBI said in a statement Thursday it routinely uses the airplanes to support local law enforcement.
“It should come as no surprise that the FBI uses planes to follow terrorists, spies, and serious criminals,” FBI Deputy Director Mark F. Giuliano said. “We have an obligation to follow those people who want to hurt our country and its citizens, and we will continue to do so.”
The FBI's use of a surveillance fleet emerged around the time Congress was nearing the passage of legislation ending the National Security Agency's bulk collection of U.S. phone metadata.