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FBI's 'Carnivore' system praised, criticized with final report
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- An independent review board concluded in its final report on Thursday that a controversial FBI electronic wiretap system was an effective law-enforcement tool, drawing fire from critics who said it was too invasive.
In its final report to the U.S. Justice Department, a group of researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) added recommendations that the Justice Department should maintain tight central control of the e-mail monitoring system, dubbed "Carnivore." They also recommended that all comprehensive searches require Justice Department approval and that Carnivore be modified to document all of its activities to prevent abuse.
But much of the rest of the report remained unchanged from a draft version released last month, prompting criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union and House Majority Leader Dick Armey.
"I don't see anything new here," said Barry Steinhardt, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "The report continues to have the same defects."
Armey, a Texas Republican, released a statement calling the report a "superficial review" that "doesn't get to the heart of the matter."
Carnivore, which cannot be used without a court order, is installed by the FBI in the facilities of Internet providers to monitor the e-mail activity of suspected criminals.
The IIT group said Carnivore was an effective monitoring tool that could potentially become too invasive if it were set up improperly. They recommended minor modifications to the existing system and an eventual public release of its technical specifications, or "source code."
The report also observed that Carnivore could cause potential disruptions if Internet service providers are required to modify their networks to allow it to operate.
But on the whole, Carnivore does not violate privacy or civil liberties, the report concluded: "It provides investigators with no more information than is permitted by a given court order."
Critics: Review was not independent
The IIT was hired to examine Carnivore this fall after congressional concerns about unreasonable search and seizure prompted the Justice Department to commission an outside review of the system.
Both Armey and the ACLU questioned the depth of the review and called on the FBI to shut Carnivore down until privacy concerns could be addressed in a more thorough manner.
The ACLU's Steinhardt noted that criminals can easily bypass Carnivore by encrypting their e-mail, or hijack the system through the use of remote-access programs.
Steinhardt called on the FBI to release the Carnivore source code so other technical experts could examine it more thoroughly. "The only way to ensure that it's not going to be misused is through a peer review," he said.
Justice Department spokeswoman Chris Watney said the IIT report will be examined by an internal review team and incorporated with public comments into a report for Attorney General Janet Reno, probably by the end of the month.
Watney said she did not know if Reno would have time to do anything before President-Elect George W. Bush installs a new attorney general in January.
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