Senate OKs easier use of Carnivore

In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Senate passed legislation Sept. 13 to ease restrictions on the surveillance of e-mail traffic and other electronic communications.

An amendment to a $40 billion emergency funding bill would make it dramatically easier for the FBI to use programs such as its controversial Carnivore Internet snooping technology, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, in Washington, D.C., which examines civil liberties issues.

Carnivore — renamed DCS 1000 — provoked a massive outcry when its existence was revealed last year. The FBI uses the technology to screen e-mail traffic. But unlike wiretaps, which are usually aimed at a specific individual, Carnivore examines everyone's e-mail.

Critics have labeled Carnivore a sweeping invasion of privacy, and it has been assailed by liberal groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and conservatives such as House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas).

But the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., have altered the mood and generated broad bipartisan support in the Senate for easing restrictions on Internet intercepts.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who introduced the amendment, said federal law already allows intercepts in connection with such crimes as mail and wire fraud and interstate transportation of stolen goods. "Inexplicably," Hatch said, terrorism is not included.

"As a result, federal investigators are often hampered when investigating terrorist incidents," he said. Hatch's amendment would simplify the process for investigators to get a court order to intercept electronic communications. But Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said Hatch's amendment might make cyber snooping too easy. As long as a "state investigator — not even a sworn police officer" can certify to a federal judge that the information likely to be intercepted is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation, the judge is obliged to issue an intercept order, Leahy said.

The amendment gives law enforcement officials "new abilities to go into people's computers," Leahy warned.

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