ACLU: Block FBI e-snoops

The American Civil Liberties Union appealed to Congress last week to protect Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures on the Internet in light of recent revelations that a new monitoring tool could enable the FBI to intercept the e-mail of law-abiding citizens.

In a letter to the House Judiciary Committee's Constitution Subcommitte, ACLU director Laura Murphy argued that the FBI's new Carnivore e-mail surveillance system gives federal law enforcement officers access to the e-mail of every customer of an Internet service provider and the e-mail of every person who communicates with them.

"The Carnivore system gives law enforcement e-mail interception capabilities that were never contemplated when Congress passed the Electronic Communications Privacy Act" in 1986, Murphy stated in the letter. "The ACLU urges the subcommittee to accelerate its consideration of the application of the Fourth Amendment in the Digital Age."

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects the public from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Attorney General Janet Reno said July 13 that she is now looking into the allegations. "When we develop new technology, when we apply the Constitution, I want to make sure that we apply it in a consistent and balanced way," Reno said.

Robert Corn-Revere, an Internet and communications lawyer with the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Hogan &Harston LLP, first divulged evidence of the Carnivore system's abilities during a congressional hearing in April. The FBI must have a court order to use Carnivore.

Once approved, Carnivore is attached directly to an ISP's network and gives the FBI access to all e-mail traffic flowing across the network, according to the ACLU. The ACLU and others have raised concerns that Carnivore intercepts information from the headers of e-mail messages and may divulge details about the contents of the messages.

"The FBI and the law enforcement and national security communities in general are offering a trade: less privacy due to increased use of technology in surveillance in return for greater safety for the public," said Daniel Ryan, a lawyer and former director of Information Systems Security at the Pentagon.

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