Re: Carnivore

From: Terry W. Colvin (
Date: Thu Jul 13 2000 - 18:32:17 MDT

> Jonathan Reeves wrote:
> Surely this is Echelon ?

Echelon is the international communications links sniffer operated by the
NSA, GCHQ, etc. Here is a newspaper article: Terry

Wall Street Journal - July 11, 2000

FBI's System to Covertly Search E-Mail Raises Legal Issues, Privacy Concerns


WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is using a
superfast system called Carnivore to covertly search e-mails for
messages from criminal suspects.

Essentially a personal computer stuffed with specialized
software, Carnivore represents a new twist in the federal
government's fight to sustain its snooping powers in the Internet
age. But in employing the system, which can scan millions of
e-mails a second, the FBI has upset privacy advocates and some in
the computer industry. Experts say the system opens a thicket of
unresolved legal issues and privacy concerns.

The FBI developed the Internet wiretapping system at a special
agency lab at Quantico, Va., and dubbed it Carnivore for its
ability to get to "the meat" of what would otherwise be an
enormous quantity of data. FBI technicians unveiled the system to
a roomful of astonished industry specialists here two weeks ago
in order to steer efforts to develop standardized ways of
complying with federal wiretaps. Federal investigators say they
have used Carnivore in fewer than 100 criminal cases since its
launch early last year.

Word of the Carnivore system has disturbed many in the Internet
industry because, when deployed, it must be hooked directly into
Internet service providers' computer networks. That would give
the government, at least theoretically, the ability to eavesdrop
on all customers' digital communications, from e-mail to online
banking and Web surfing.

The system also troubles some Internet service providers, who are
loath to see outside software plugged into their systems. In many
cases, the FBI keeps the secret Carnivore computer system in a
locked cage on the provider's premises, with agents making daily
visits to retrieve the data captured from the provider's network.
But legal challenges to the use of Carnivore are few, and judges'
rulings remain sealed because of the secretive nature of the

Issue briefing: Net Privacy

* * *

Internet wiretaps are conducted only under state or federal
judicial order, and occur relatively infrequently. The huge
majority of wiretaps continue to be the traditional telephone
variety, though U.S. officials say the use of Internet
eavesdropping is growing as everyone from drug dealers to
potential terrorists begins to conduct business over the Web.

The FBI defends Carnivore as more precise than Internet wiretap
methods used in the past. The bureau says the system allows
investigators to tailor an intercept operation so they can pluck
only the digital traffic of one person from among the stream of
millions of other messages. An earlier version, aptly code-named
Omnivore, could suck in as much as to six gigabytes of data every
hour, but in a less discriminating fashion.

Still, critics contend that Carnivore is open to abuse.

Mark Rasch, a former federal computer-crimes prosecutor, said the
nature of the surveillance by Carnivore raises important privacy
questions, since it analyzes part of every snippet of data
traffic that flows past, if only to determine whether to record
it for police.

"It's the electronic equivalent of listening to everybody's phone
calls to see if it's the phone call you should be monitoring,"
Mr. Rasch said. "You develop a tremendous amount of information."

Others say the technology dramatizes how far the nation's laws
are lagging behind the technological revolution. "This is a
clever way to use old telephone-era statutes to meet new
challenges, but clearly there is too much latitude in the current
law," said Stewart Baker, a lawyer specializing in
telecommunications and Internet regulatory matters.

Robert Corn-Revere, of the Hogan & Hartson law firm here,
represented an unidentified Internet service provider in one of
the few legal fights against Carnivore. He said his client
worried that the FBI would have access to all the e-mail traffic
on its system, raising dire privacy and security concerns. A
federal magistrate ruled against the company early this year,
leaving it no option but to allow the FBI access to its system.

"This is an area in desperate need of clarification from
Congress," said Mr. Corn-Revere.

"Once the software is applied to the ISP, there's no check on the
system," said Rep. Bob Barr (R., Ga.), who sits on a House
judiciary subcommittee for constitutional affairs. "If there's
one word I would use to describe this, it would be

Marcus Thomas, chief of the FBI's Cyber Technology Section at
Quantico, said Carnivore represents the bureau's effort to keep
abreast of rapid changes in Internet communications while still
meeting the rigid demands of federal wiretapping statutes. "This
is just a very specialized sniffer," he said.

He also noted that criminal and civil penalties prohibit the
bureau from placing unauthorized wiretaps, and any information
gleaned in those types of criminal cases would be thrown out of
court. Typical Internet wiretaps last around 45 days, after which
the FBI removes the equipment. Mr. Thomas said the bureau usually
has as many as 20 Carnivore systems on hand, "just in case."

FBI experts acknowledge that Carnivore's monitoring can be
stymied with computer data such as e-mail that is scrambled using
powerful encryption technology. Those messages still can be
captured, but law officers trying to read the contents are "at
the mercy of how well it was encrypted," Mr. Thomas said.

Most of the criminal cases where the FBI used Carnivore in the
past 18 months focused on what the bureau calls "infrastructure
protection," or the hunt for hackers, though it also was used in
counterterrorism and some drug-trafficking cases.

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Gina Miller []
> Sent: 13 July 2000 08:39
> To:
> Subject: Carnivore
> I saw on the boob tube tonight an MSNBC program that aired an FBI man and a
> reporter discussing a new software program called 'Carnivore' (meaning it
> can get to the meat) that the FBI plans to activate.
> If this is to take effect, the software is distributed to the server on
> which our email is located, then it with a general eye scans all the email
> of every client (from who, to who, subject line) , it can also be told to
> search for specific words within the body of emails, and hunt them out. The
> claim is, that it is to locate emails about hacking and other criminal
> activity. I think there would be some trickle down effect for corporate
> interest as well. Survey results exposed on the show, explains that
> corporations do a high level of saving 'at work emails' and 'employee's
> computer data' as it is. My problem with this digital wiretap, is that it
> will be 'spying' on innocent people as well and infringing on their privacy,
> and the context at which diction is used, may be misconstrued.
> After the program aired, I searched the MSNBC site on the net and found a
> url
> Gina "Nanogirl" Miller
> Nanotechnology Industries
> Personal:
> "Nanotechnology: Solutions for the future."

Terry W. Colvin, Sierra Vista, Arizona (USA)
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