Carnivore to be put to privacy test
- By Bryant Jordan
- Jul 26, 2000
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.