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ACLU: Block FBI e-snoops

Federal Computer Week

July 17, 2000
Web posted at: 8:41 a.m. EDT (1241 GMT)

(IDG) -- The American Civil Liberties Union on July 11 appealed to Congress to protect Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures on the Internet in light of recent revelations that a new monitoring tool could enable the FBI to intercept the e-mail of law-abiding citizens.

In a letter to the House Judiciary Committee's Constitution Subcommitte, ACLU director Laura Murphy argued that the FBI's new Carnivore e-mail surveillance system gives federal law enforcement officers access to the e-mail of every customer of an Internet service provider and the e-mail of every person who communicates with them.

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"The Carnivore system gives law enforcement e-mail interception capabilities that were never contemplated when Congress passed the Electronic Communications Privacy Act" in 1986, Murphy stated in the letter. "The ACLU urges the subcommittee to accelerate its consideration of the application of the Fourth Amendment in the Digital Age."

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The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution specifically provides that "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures."

Robert Corn-Revere, an Internet and communications lawyer with the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Hogan & Harston LLP, first divulged evidence of the Carnivore system's abilities during a Congressional hearing in April. The FBI must have a court order to use Carnivore to intercept the communications of alleged criminals.

Carnivore is attached directly to an ISP's network and gives the FBI access to all e-mail traffic flowing across an ISP's network, according to the ACLU. The ACLU and others have raised concerns that Carnivore intercepts information from the header of e-mail messages and may divulge information about the contents of the messages.

"The FBI and the law enforcement and national security communities in general are offering a trade: less privacy due to increased use of technology in surveillance in return for greater safety for the public," said Daniel Ryan, a lawyer and former director of Information Systems Security at the Pentagon.

"Carnivore works fine. It is just a "sniffer,'" Ryan said. "Used under judicial supervision.it represents no greater threat than we faced before, except perhaps with regard to the sheer amount of information that could be reviewed."




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ACLU homepage

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