Privacy group picks at Carnivore claims
- By Bryant Jordan
- Nov 19, 2000
An FBI memo reveals that Carnivore, the FBI's e-mail bugging system, is
able to intercept far more information than FBI officials testified to Congress,
a privacy advocacy organization claims.
Carnivore can intercept so-called unfiltered e-mail traffic — which is not
covered by court orders — according to Wayne Madsen of the Electronic Privacy
Information Center in Washington, D.C.
But that's not what FBI officials told Congress in September, Madsen said.
"They were quite clear that anything not involved in a court order would
be instantly vaporized. You can't get more specific than that," Madsen said.
The document cited by Madsen is a June 5, 2000, memo drafted by the FBI
lab's data intercept technology unit.
Steven Berry, an FBI spokesman, said he has not seen the document cited
by EPIC, but he believes it references "an in-lab controlled experiment
that served to stress the full capabilities of the system."
"During this test, they ran the system without the filter to determine [performance],"
he said. "How fast, how much information, and other parameters — they ran
it flat out, basically, like a car, to see at what point the engine breaks."
Madsen rejected the explanation, noting that the document states the system
was used "in a real-world deployment."
If they tested it in the lab, "then why didn't they refer to it as an in-house
test, instead of a real-world test?" he said.
"I want to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that the people who
testified were not that familiar with the system," Madsen said.
FBI Assistant Director Donald Kerr, testifying before the Senate Judiciary
Committee Sept. 9, said only those packets subject to the court order allowing
the Carnivore interception are detected by the system's filter and captured.
"Other communications are instantaneously vaporized after that one second.
They are totally destroyed. They are not collected, saved or stored," Kerr
But the June 5 memo cited by EPIC noted that Carnivore, during a real-world
deployment connected to a personal computer "could reliably capture and
archive all unfiltered traffic to the [PC's] internal hard drive."