Privacy cloud hangs over Digital Storm
- By Bryant Jordan
- Dec 21, 2000
Add Digital Storm to the legal, political and public relations wars that
the Justice Department can expect to fight in the name of law enforcement.
Already under fire from privacy rights advocates about Carnivore, the FBI's
controversial e-mail surveillance system, Justice can expect Digital Storm
to churn up a tempest of its own.
Under the program, which picked up $25 million in the fiscal 2001 budget,
Justice intends to move its wiretap technologies into the Digital Age. Most
of the department's systems now capture only analog communications, although
the world — most notably the criminal world — is increasingly digital, FBI
officials point out.
Privacy advocates do not dispute the need for the upgrade, but they claim
that the increased efficiencies of Digital Storm will result in law enforcement
seeking even more wiretaps.
"If as a result of the technologies that fall under Digital Storm the FBI
[and] the state and local police are able to remove the technical constraints,
then you end up with a troubling scenario of weak legal standards [for getting
wiretap authority] and powerful information collection and analysis technologies,
which equal a further erosion of privacy," said Jim Dempsey, senior legal
counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, Washington, D.C.
Technological limitations have limited law enforcement's use of wiretaps,
Dempsey said, because agencies lack the manpower to pore over the hefty
transcripts that can result from wiretap investigations.
But Digital Storm threatens to wash away that barrier by enabling agents
to quickly go through thousands of pages via keyword searches, Dempsey said.
Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) offered similar concerns about Digital Storm in April,
after he learned of the Digital Storm program.
"If we don't take a hard look at laws governing interception of private
data, right now, and create new safeguards that protect electronic privacy,
then...within just a few short years, we will have no privacy at all," Barr
said in a newsletter to constituents.
In 2001, Justice will begin replacing analog-based intercept systems in
the FBI's 56 field offices with new digital collection systems. The systems
will be a combination of commercially available and specially developed
technology, FBI Director Louis Freeh told lawmakers in March.
Depending on how much funding Congress gives the bureau in coming years,
it could take until 2010 to fully switch to digitized systems, according