Court beefs up Carnivore requirements
- By IDG News Service, Margret Johnston
- Aug 16, 2000
The court's decision
U.S. government agents have to meet the highest legal standards if they
want to intercept packets of data that mingle "to" and "from" information
with the content of the message, a U.S. federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
Even though the ruling did not reverse a Federal Communications Commission
order on packet data, privacy advocates hailed the ruling, especially as
it pertains to the FBI's Carnivore e-mail sniffer.
According to James Dempsey, senior staff counsel for the Center for
Democracy and Technology, the court's ruling casts doubt over the legality
of the Carnivore system, which is placed with Internet service providers
to monitor the e-mail of criminal suspects. The FBI has relied on a lesser
standard when using Carnivore to discover with whom a suspect is communicating.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued the decision
in a case brought by the United States Telephone Association and privacy
rights organizations, including the CDT. The case challenged portions of
the FCC's order to implement the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement
Act of 1994. CALEA was intended to preserve law enforcement wiretapping
capabilities as new technologies are implemented in U.S. telecommunications
The court reversed an FCC decision ordering telecommunications companies
to add surveillance features demanded by the FBI. It denied challenges to
the FCC's decision on digital packet communications but held that law enforcement
agents must obtain a search warrant before they can "obtain packets from
which call content has not been stripped."
Carnivore involves FBI access to complete packets, and the content of
the communication is "stripped" only after the data is processed by the
system. Such a procedure is at odds with the legal requirements the court
announced today, according to David Sobel, general counsel of the Electronic
Privacy Information Center.
"Today's ruling will protect privacy in new modes of communication,"
EPIC's executive director, Marc Rotenberg said. "It will likely increase
dramatically the number of cases in which government agents must obtain
search warrants, particularly incases involving the Internet."
FCW staff contributed to this report.