MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Sen. Al Franken has ten big questions for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice in light of the recent surveillance flights that occurred over 30 U.S. metro areas, including the Twin Cities.

Franken sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI director James Comey, saying “Many Americans have been troubled by these reports, and as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, I believe it is important to ensure that these programs adequately protect Americans’ privacy while furthering public safety and national security.”

The letter asks for detailed written responses to ten questions ranging from the scope of the surveillance, to what kinds of technologies the FBI is using and under what legal authority the agency is using them.

The flights were first reported when 23-year-old independent journalist Sam Richards published a story on Medium detailing his findings about the identity of the low-flying flight.

The FBI hasn’t said which investigations their plane’s surveillance is linked to or what kind of data it was collecting.

In his letter to Lynch and Comey, Franken asked for a clearer definition on the scope and legality of these surveillance flights.

Among his questions for the FBI are how often the bureau engages in surveillance flights using video technology, how many people are tracked during each flight, whether the government has taken steps to ensure the flights aren’t used to discourage crowds from attending public political or religious activities.

He also raised questions about the surveillance flights’ capability to block 911 emergency calls, and whether there was a system in place to make sure non-targeted civilians would not find their phone calls interrupted.

The letter also asks for a sample of applications by the government to judges seeking court orders for the surveillance. While the FBI has said the surveillance equipment can gather information from cell phones, the Senator says he wants to know how many individual cell phones can be monitored and tracked during a single flight.

The letter also asks what is being done to destroy any data collected on innocent individuals.

Senator Franken is chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law.

Esme Murphy

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