- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2000

Federal law enforcement agents say they have used the controversial Carnivore software program to track e-mail of suspects 25 times in the past two years.
But agents have never used the program illegally or tracked e-mail they were not authorized to track by a court order, FBI Assistant Director Donald Kerr told the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution yesterday.
Despite the restraint the FBI says it has used, privacy rights advocates criticized law enforcement agents for using Carnivore and lawmakers expressed skepticism about the federal government's use of the Internet surveillance tool.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, said yesterday Carnivore should be suspended until concerns of privacy advocates and needs of law enforcement are reconciled.
"Until these concerns are addressed, Carnivore should be shut down," he said.
Carnivore enables investigators to pick out specific e-mail messages traveling through an Internet service provider's computer system so it can monitor who a suspect contacts and who contacts a suspect.
Mr. Kerr and other federal officials said the high-tech surveillance system is crucial to help them keep up with an increasingly sophisticated breed of tech-savvy criminals and crucial to help them keep the Internet safe.
"Many of the crimes that we confront every day in the physical world are beginning to appear on line," said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Kevin DiGregory.
"If we fail to make the Internet safe, people's confidence in using the Internet and e-commerce will decline, endangering the very benefits brought by the information age… . Carnivore is simply an investigative tool that is used on line only under narrowly defined circumstances and only when authorized by law to meet our responsibilities to the public," he said.
But lawmakers expressed concern about a lack of checks and balances on law enforcement agents using Carnivore.
"The potential for abuse here is enormous," said Rep. Spencer Bachus, Alabama Republican.
FBI General Counsel Larry Parkinson said Carnivore is a little-used tool. When it is used, Mr. Kerr said, agents follow the law carefully, and if they are caught collecting more data than allowed, they can be imprisoned up to five years for committing a federal felony.
"In the past, we've had many agencies go beyond the scope of their authority," said Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat.
Mr. Kerr said the FBI and Department of Justice will seek an independent review of Carnivore this year to show they aren't misusing the program.
Lawmakers and privacy rights advocates also criticized federal officials for using Carnivore when Internet service providers could just as easily collect information being sought.
"There ought to be more control in the hands of the [Internet service providers]," said Alan Davidson, a lawyer with the District of Columbia-based civil liberties group Center for Democracy and Technology.
Mr. Kerr argued that few of the nation's estimated 10,000 Internet service providers have the means to sift through e-mail traffic and collect them for law enforcement.
But Robert Corn-Revere, an attorney who represented Atlanta-based Internet service provider EarthLink, said EarthLink was gathering e-mail information at the federal government's request earlier this year when it was forced to comply with a court order and let federal officials install Carnivore on its computers.
The federal government was upset that EarthLink was capturing few e-mail messages, Mr. Corn-Revere said, and it needlessly installed Carnivore.
American Civil Liberties Union Associate Director Barry Steinhardt suggested Carnivore's source code be made public. The source code is the set of instructions a programmer writes, and it will show just what Carnivore is capable of retrieving. The ACLU has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI to get the source code.
Even though they had a raft of questions about Carnivore and its use, lawmakers yesterday didn't express any willingness to make immediate changes in the federal government's authority to use the surveillance program.
"We should be sensitive to any potential for abuse of the Carnivore system. Even a system designed with the best of intentions to legally carry out essential law enforcement functions may be a cause for concern if its use is not properly monitored," said Rep. Charles T. Canady, Florida Republican.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide