House leader wants investigation of 'Carnivore'
By Jennifer Jones
(IDG) -- A powerful house lawmaker asked the FBI to re-examine the extent to which its e-mail sniffing tool, "Carnivore," infringes on privacy.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey in a letter asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to take a look at Carnivore in light of a recent Supreme Court case involving privacy and police technology.
The nation's highest court on Monday ruled that thermal imaging devices "erode the privacy guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment," according to the case "Kyllo v. United States."
"It is reasonable, then, to ask whether the Internet surveillance system formerly known as Carnivore similarly undermines the minimum expectation that individuals have that their personal electronic communications will not be examined by law enforcement devices unless specific court warrant has been issued," Armey wrote.
The FBI has sought to distance its e-mail sniffing capabilities from the term Carnivore and has informally changed the system's name to DCS 1000. The acronym "DCS" does not stand for anything, according to an FBI spokesman.
The FBI in congressional testimony last year stressed that it intercepts communications traveling over the Internet only when it has court orders permitting it to do so.
FBI representatives added that there are rare "emergency" cases where the system was used without such orders.
However, Armey's letter Thursday argues that there are now "serious constitutional questions" surrounding Carnivore.
The nation's founding fathers "quite clearly decided to sacrifice [some] efficiency for the sake of protecting citizens from overly intrusive government," Armey wrote.
Armey also indicated in his letter that he is unsatisfied with the review of Carnivore conducted by an Illinois university under the Clinton Administration.
Privacy groups also unhappy with the earlier review of Carnivore asked Ashcroft in early May to revisit privacy concerns surrounding the use of the system.
EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center), the Amercian Civil Liberties Union, the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, and others co-signed the May 2 letter.
EPIC and others advocate a scenario in which the FBI turns over its Carnivore sniffing capabilities to participating ISPs to conduct e-mail searches prescribed by court orders.
The FBI is currently awaiting a report due out of the Department of Justice on Carnivore, the spokesman said.
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