Questions nip at Carnivore

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

Sept. 6.

"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

the deadline.

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."

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