Carnivore to be put to privacy test

Carnivore, the FBI's crime-fighting Internet tool, is in danger of having

its teeth pulled — at least until technical experts satisfy Congress that

the system is not a threat to individual privacy.

After a hearing Monday of the House Judiciary Committee's Constitution

Subcommittee, FBI officials noted that no one on the subcommittee — some

of whose members were sharply critical of the program — suggested Carnivore

be shelved, bureau spokesman Paul Bresson said.

But members expressed fear that the program threatens basic constitutional

protections against unlawful search and seizure.

"Constitutional rights don't end where cyberspace begins," said Rep.

John Conyers (D-Mich.)

The congressmen appear willing to let the system continue operating

until after two academic institutions review it independently, Bresson said.

The FBI proposed the review when the flap over Carnivore broke about two

weeks ago. The review would demonstrate that the system captures only the

limited information the bureau claims.

During the hearing, FBI and Justice Department officials reiterated

their argument that Carnivore can be programmed only to capture the "to"

and "from" lines on e-mail — something akin to a long-established and legal

process of capturing phone numbers dialed to and from a particular phone.

And, like phone taps, Carnivore also can be used to capture entire e-mail


Donald Kerr, head of the FBI laboratory, said what Carnivore captures

is spelled out by a court order, and that it would be a felony to do more

than the order prescribed.

That did not satisfy some members of the committee.

Several members remarked that the bureau is basically saying, "trust


Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., reminded the witnesses that government

agents have abused their authority in the past to investigate innocent people.

"J. Edgar Hoover — look at what he did," Bachus said.

Alan Davidson, an attorney for the Center for Democracy and Technology,

said Carnivore highlights the need for new and stronger privacy laws to

cover the Internet. He told the subcommittee that the kinds of personal

papers and information that people once kept in a desk in their home now

are stored in cyberspace, on network servers that are not covered by the

Constitutional protections against illegal search and seizure.


  • FCW Perspectives
    tech process (pkproject/

    Understanding the obstacles to automation

    As RPA moves from buzzword to practical applications, agency leaders say it’s forcing broader discussions about business operations

  • Federal 100 Awards
    Federal 100 logo

    Fed 100 nominations are now open

    Help us identify this year's outstanding individuals in federal IT.

Stay Connected


Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.