FBI's Carnivore does more than previously thought

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FBI's Carnivore does more than previously thought

By: Thomas C Greene in Washington

Posted: 05/10/2000 at 14:49 GMT

Heavily censored FBI documents obtained by US watchdog outfit the Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC), under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, indicate that the FBI's electronic snoop known as Carnivore might be able to monitor a good deal more than just e-mail traffic.

Among the capabilities that peek out from behind all the indelible black swaths in the documents is an ability to reconstruct an entire Web page as viewed by a subject. A planned, updated version may even be able to capture voice-over-Web communications. Presently the system can capture and record all packet traffic to and from a selected IP, while monitoring a subject's on-line movements.

These extra capabilities underscore the controversial issue of FBI reliability in restraining itself when authorised to view only e-mail headers. This is a crucial point, because the Bureau can obtain the on-line equivalent of a pen register order (recording the destinations of out-going communications) or a trap and trace order (recording the origins of in-coming communications) without a warrant signed by a judge. Because of the lower standard, the contents of such communications must not be intercepted.

For such limited surveillance the standard of evidence is quite low: the FBI need merely be prepared to prove that the information sought could be material to an investigation. To snoop on the actual content communicated - the on-line equivalent of a telephone wiretap - the FBI must satisfy a judge that a crime is likely to be committed.

Some judges hand out wiretap orders as if they were parking tickets; others will laugh one out of chambers for producing less than a smoking gun in evidence. The system is far from perfect, but on balance it does a tolerable job of keeping most of the Feds at an appropriate distance most of the time.

But many fear that the FBI could broaden its on-line snooping under limited surveillance orders, succumbing to temptation provided by Carnivore's additional capabilities. Suppose, for example, that FBI agents were to obtain a pen register and/or trap and trace order for a subject, but then go a bit further on their own. Would anyone be the wiser?

And what becomes of information collected illegally? It's useless in court, being the poisonous fruit of a forbidden tree. But suppose it were sufficient to tip off the Feds to a criminal act for which they could later obtain evidence legitimately.

They wouldn't have known about it if they hadn't broken the law, but they'll build a case in court based on evidence gathered legitimately. Would anyone be the wiser?

One possible solution to these concerns would be for the FBI to develop a bare-bones version of Carnivore, capable of intercepting nothing more than e-mail headers, to be used for the on-line equivalent of trap and trace and pen register orders.

Thus the full-scale Carnivore with its additional capabilities would be authorised for use only when a wiretap order had been issued by a judge. This wouldn't be a guarantee against abuse of limited snooping authority, but it would add an extra layer of protection for subjects, and a bit more credibility to FBI claims of conscientious self-regulation. Abuse would require a wider circle of cooperation, and so increase the likelihood that an overzealous agent would be caught with his hand in the cookie jar by a supervisor. .


-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), October 06, 2000


The capabilities of Carnivore is similar
to a "trunk side" wiretap that was made
illegal 30 years ago. This is where they
can monitor all ISP traffic and require
ISPs to provide them with logs email
messages and web sites visited.

This is a dangerous technology that has
broad implications for civil rights and

The FBI is also pressuring makers of
Internet equipment and software to insure
that the next generation of Internet
technologies have wiretap-friendly
features. This was banned in 1994 under
the Communications Assistance to Law
Enforcement Act which banned internet
spying. Contact your congress persons
today and insist that they support any
legislation that puts a halt to this most
insidious invasion of personal privacy
in recent memory.

Write your Congressperson.

Write your Senator.

Stop Carnivore website.

-- spider (spider0@usa.net), October 07, 2000.

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