Privacy cloud hangs over Digital Storm

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

to documents.

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