The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the reasons that national security investigations of possible terrorists and those working for foreign agents fell sharply last year, says a new government report. Far fewer targets underwent secret surveillance, according to NPR. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act empowers the FBI to monitor the communications inside the United States of people suspected of being agents of a foreign power. The year 2019 saw a decline in the number of people, which followed several years of substantially larger numbers.
U.S. officials say the surveillance statistics are known to fluctuate from year to year, but that in 2020, COVID-19 “likely influenced target behavior, which in turn may have impacted some of the numbers reported for that year.” In the aftermath of disclosures of classified programs by Edward Snowden, a former intelligence subcontractor with the Central Intelligence Agency, a report has been released every year designed to lend transparency to how the government exerts its national security surveillance powers. Officials who briefed reporters said the restrictions enacted around the world on movements and large gatherings may have decreased the number of potential people or groups to surveil.