Bill clamps down on Carnivore

H.R. 2215: Justice Department authorization bill

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The FBI and its controversial Carnivore e-mail monitoring system could get renewed scrutiny under provisions of the Justice Department's fiscal 2002 appropriations bill passed by the House.

The bill, approved by a unanimous voice vote July 23, would require the attorney general and the FBI director to submit a detailed annual report on the use of systems, including Carnivore. Provisions of the bill also would create a deputy inspector general position within the Justice Department to focus on the FBI specifically.

In regard to Carnivore, the bill would require the FBI to provide the House and Senate judiciary committees with several pieces of information:

* The number of times the system was used during the previous fiscal year.

* The Justice officials who approved each use of the system and the criteria those officials used to review the request.

* A complete description of the process used to submit, review and approve a request for Carnivore.

* The specific statutory authority that lets the FBI use Carnivore.

* The court that authorized each use of the system.

* Details about the number of warrants or subpoenas that authorities applied for to use Carnivore, whether those orders were granted, and the offenses that were specified in the order.

* Where the contents of the surveillance efforts were disclosed.

* Any information gathered or accessed that was not authorized by the court to be gathered or accessed.

Privacy advocates praised the provision of the bill as a good first step for getting more information regarding the use of Carnivore.

Carnivore, which the FBI has renamed DCS1000, enables law enforcement officials to tap certain types of data—such as the "to" and "from" information — coming through an Internet service providers' networks.

Opponents have argued that law enforcement officials should be required to get the same kind of court order needed for a telephone wiretap. FBI officials have said that the bureau can use Carnivore under the less-restrictive rules that allow authorities to gather telephone numbers of calls a suspect may make or receive.

David Sobel, general counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington, D.C., privacy group, said the House measure does not go far enough, but he said it represents an "important first step" because it will provide the public with information that it has not had.

The House action came the day before Justice officials named a chief privacy officer and assigned him the task of dealing with Carnivore.

The Senate must still take action on the bill.

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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