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Home » Hacking News » FBI's Carnivore, under it's own surveillance

FBI's Carnivore, under it's own surveillance

by Majik on August 12th, 2001 A consumer group has asked a federal judge to depose top FBI officials in connection with hundreds of documents that could shed new light on the government's controversial e-mail surveillance tool, formerly known as "Carnivore."

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed the request on Thursday to determine the existence of papers that would show whether Justice Department conducted a thorough legal and constitutional inquiry into the device before using it in the field.

During a six-month period last year, EPIC used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain nearly 2,000 Carnivore-related documents from the Justice Department. While many of those documents were heavily edited, EPIC General Counsel David Sobel noted that all of the information was related to Carnivore's technical specifications.

"None of the documents reflect any policy or legal analysis of Carnivore and it's just impossible to believe that documents detailing that analysis don’t exist," Sobel said.

The motion, filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia requests sworn depositions from FBI Assistant Director Donald Kerr, FBI General Counsel Larry Parkinson and Associate Attorney General Kevin DeGregory.

All three testified before the House and Senate Judiciary committees last year that the Justice Department had conducted a broad inquiry into the legality of Carnivore. EPIC is also requesting depositions from any FBI employees who may have helped prepare the congressional testimony.

"If the answer is that there is no such material, then that means the FBI gave no consideration to the constitutional issues before it started using Carnivore," Sobel said. "And it means the assurances expressed to the congressional committees was a post-hoc rationale."

FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said the agency is cooperating with the FOIA requests, but noted that such requests are labor-intensive and can often take months to complete.

"I imagine there are documents that relate to the legal issues of Carnivore," Bresson said. "We'll consider their request like everyone else's and determine what is releasable under the law."

Designed to attach to an Internet service provider's (ISP) network, Carnivore – since renamed a much less ominous-sounding DCS-1000 – is capable of sifting through loads of network traffic to pick out and store a suspect's e-mail communications.

But EPIC and other consumer and privacy groups have charged that the device does not limit the collection of information that is unrelated to the investigation. Critics also challenge whether law enforcement officials should be forced to meet a higher standard of court approval before using the eavesdropping tool.

Last year, an independent team of scientists and university researchers completed a technical review of Carnivore, and found that while the system does filter out unrelated communications, it lacks adequate safeguards that would prevent ensure law enforcement officials from tampering with the evidence collected.

The Justice Department under the Bush administration has yet to act on the the recommendations in the report. Review of device's impact on privacy has now fallen to Daniel Collins, the Justice Department's new chief privacy officer.

Collins could not be reached for comment on this story.

At his confirmation hearing last month, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the agency's snooping ability via DCS-1000 will respect online privacy, though Congress might want to consider drafting additional statutes regarding criminal investigations online.

In late July, the House of Representatives did just that, approving a bill that would require the FBI and the Justice Department to give Congress detailed information about how the e-mail-monitoring device is used by law enforcers.

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