Questions nip at Carnivore
- By Bryant Jordan
- Sep 11, 2000
Carnivore, the FBIs' e-mail bugging system, seems to be taking more bites
out of the Justice Department than out of crime.
Already under scrutiny by legislators and civil liberties groups, Carnivore's
integrity was further questioned Sept. 6 when lawmakers asked Justice officials
why major universities are balking at reviewing the system.
Respected institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology;
the University of California, San Diego; the University of Michigan; Dartmouth
College; and Purdue University have said they will not take part in the
review, according to a USA Today report Sept. 6.
A Justice official appearing at House and Senate committee hearings said
he could not discuss the department's efforts to seek bids on the review.
However, the network manager at MIT, Jeffrey Schiller, said Justice doesn't
really want a review but rather rubber-stamp approval for Carnivore.
"This is an attempt by the government to borrow our reputation," Schiller
said. He said Justice is looking for a report saying that Carnivore does
exactly what the department claims it does.
Carnivore is described as a sophisticated "sniffer" — a program that can
sniff out specific e-mail messages and redirect copies to a separate computer.
Justice and the FBI, which has deployed the system in 25 cases so far, liken
the system to simple "trap and trace" taps put on phone lines to identify
sources of phone calls.
Schiller said Justice wants to restrict what researchers may look at in
the review, such as the source code that shows how Carnivore works.
Critics say that without a thorough analysis of Carnivore, the government
is asking the public to trust that it is not collecting any more data than
allowed by a court.
Lawmakers also expressed concern over Carnivore's potential for abuse. People
are worried about government intrusion into their personal lives, including
their electronic correspondence, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told Justice
officials and others appearing before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing
"Are we going to have an Orwellian-type investigating government, now that
we are in the Orwellian-type world?" he asked, rhetorically.
Kevin DiGregory, deputy assistant attorney general in Justice's criminal
division, told Hatch he could not discuss the review solicitation because
the bid process was open until 5 p.m. that day.
DiGregory told Hatch — and later the House Judiciary Committee's Constitution
Subcommittee — that he would talk about the university bid withdrawals after
But even then, such discussion will remain off-limits, Justice spokeswoman
Chris Watney said Sept. 7.
"We are still bound by the Procurement Integrity Act," she said. Until a
selection is made from among those bidding on the work, officials may not
discuss it, she said.
Attorney General Janet Reno has said that a university would be selected
by Sept. 15 and a review of Carnivore would be completed by Dec. 1. Now,
the department is hoping to have a selection made "as quickly as possible."