Reno won\'t stop FBI\'s email monitoring
Robert Kemp <email@example.com>
30 Jul 2000 21:48:04 -0000
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On Sun, 30 Jul 2000 11:37:01 -0400 "Shane A. Saylor, Eccentric Bard" <taliesin2@EARTHLINK.NET> wrote:
Reno won't stop FBI's email monitoring
By The Associated Press
Special to CNET News.com
July 27, 2000, 2:30 p.m. PT
update WASHINGTON--Attorney General Janet Reno today said she will not
suspend the FBI's court-approved monitoring of some people's email messages
while the law enforcement program is under review at the Justice Department.
"I think that (FBI) agents can still use it" during the review of the
"Carnivore" surveillance system, Reno said at her weekly news briefing.
Reno said it is important "that we be able to explain the process and
address the issues raised by the industry, privacy experts and others." She
said her hope is that "we will be able to address these issues in a
thoughtful way and resolve them."
Reno's comments came amid a move in Congress to increase the burden on
federal law enforcement agencies to justify monitoring people's email
messages and other communications.
Rep. Bob Barr confirmed that he and his staff are at work on a bill that
would rein in the Carnivore surveillance system and place additional
restrictions on telephone wiretaps.
Barr, R-Ga., said he was concerned about computer eavesdropping capability
before attending a hearing on Capitol Hill earlier this week, and he said he
"came out of it scared."
Privacy advocates and computer experts called Carnivore a "black box" in
testimony Monday and said only the FBI knows what it truly does. They also
contended that information the FBI gets from the device, installed at a
suspect's Internet service provider, is far more than what could be gleaned
from a telephone wiretap, and statutes governing telephone surveillance are
In a telephone "trap-and-trace" or "pen register" wiretap, authorities can
get a list of phone calls made to and from a certain telephone number. The
usable information is limited to the 10-digit telephone numbers and the time
of the call; the phone company, when given a court order, provides the
Current laws and judicial precedent say that the numbers a person dials are
not private communications, and therefore authorities do not need to show
that a crime has been committed.
With Carnivore, that statute is being extended to the Internet world.
The details of Barr's bill aren't clear yet, but he said it would address
the issue of translating telephone wiretap law to the Internet by designing
strict constraints for monitoring the medium. It would also make sure that
evidence gained from an email tap would not yield more information than a
similar court order for a telephone tap.
The FBI's new surveillance mechanism sits at the subject's ISP and scans the
addressing information coming from or going to the suspect's computer. This
can reveal far more information than a simple email address, such as a
subject line describing the contents of the message.
"Capturing Internet origin and destination address instead of 'numbers
dialed' could create a much more intrusive form of surveillance that is not
clearly supported by law," said Alan B. Davidson, staff counsel at the
Center for Democracy and Technology.
For authorities to be able to request email content, they must show probable
cause and obtain a search warrant. The same is true for listening in on a
Regarding the inner workings of Carnivore, the FBI is resisting a Freedom of
Information Act request by the American Civil Liberties Union for
Carnivore's computer code, but said it will submit to an external review.
Since the Carnivore computer, devoid of keyboard and mouse, sits at the
suspect's ISP and is locked down from any manipulation from non-FBI
personnel, Internet providers have bristled at the idea of letting it sit on
Donald M. Kerr, assistant director of the bureau's laboratory division, said
in an interview that the FBI would love to have the ISP provide the
information authorities need, but the cost and technical knowledge can be
prohibitive for small Internet companies.
Peter William Sachs, a lawyer and president of ICONN, a small Internet
provider in Connecticut, said the job could be done with two lines of
computer code and called it a "trivial" task.
Barr concurred, saying "I'm not satisfied with the FBI's explanation."
But he will have a stiff challenge in keeping apace of the changes in
Not only can Carnivore monitor emails, Kerr said, but it also can monitor
Web browsing, chat rooms and other types of communications.
However, it is the FBI's argument that although Carnivore can read those
things, it's a difference between "capability and authorization," Kerr said.
"People seem to conjure up this vision that FBI personnel are unsupervised
and unconstrained in the use of these tools," he said. "To misuse these
authorities and to go outside the scope of the court order is to commit a
federal felony. It's, to me, not conceivable that groups of our employees
would run that kind of risk in doing their job."
Kerr again noted a separate audit trail maintained by Carnivore that keeps
track of its activity and configuration, and he said that trail is an extra
safeguard against misuse.
Barr said he expects resistance from other legislators, even from other
Republicans, but said he will not let the FBI go unchecked.
"They want to just go out and rely on scaring people to death, that if they
don't get this authority, the terrorists will take over the country and say,
'We're out to save the world,'" Barr said.
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