FBI's 'Carnivore' Might Target Wireless Text

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FBI's 'Carnivore' Might Target Wireless Text

By Robert O'Harrow Jr. Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, August 24, 2001; Page E01

Federal law enforcement authorities may soon expand the use of a controversial FBI monitoring system to capture e-mail and other text messages sent through wireless telephone carriers, as well as messages from their Internet service providers, according to a telecommunications industry group.

The FBI has been using the system, called Carnivore, for two years, subject to court authorization, to tap into Internet communications, identify e-mail writers online or record the contents of messages. It does so by capturing "packets" of information containing those details.

Civil liberties advocates and some lawmakers have expressed concerns because the system could scan private communication about legal activities of others besides those under investigation. The Justice Department is reviewing the system's impact on privacy.

Now the the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association is warning that authorities could use Carnivore as soon as October to examine messages such as those sent by cellular telephones and other handheld devices. That's because the industry has been unable to come up with a way to give law enforcement agencies the ability to monitor digital communications as they can the more easily captured analog messages, as required by a 1994 law.

In an Aug. 15 letter to the Federal Communications Commission, Michael Altschul, the association's senior vice president and general counsel, said its members can't meet the Sept. 30 deadline for the technology.

"If the industry is not provided the guidance and time to develop solutions for packet surveillance that intercept only the target's communications, it seems probable that Carnivore, which intercepts all communications in the pathway without the affirmative intervention of the carrier, will be widely implemented," Altschul wrote.

Altschul said in an interview that the FBI has told industry officials it would use Carnivore in the absence of another system. "It could well be a huge expansion of the use of Carnivore," he said.

The FBI said in a prepared statement yesterday: "We have never proposed or planned to have Carnivore used as a solution for . . . compliance." A spokesman said Internet service providers are now so adept at meeting the technical demands of approved surveillance of suspects' Internet traffic that the FBI has used Carnivore only twice this year.

The spokesman declined to say whether the FBI would use Carnivore -- now known in the agency as DCS1000 -- to capture communications handled by telephone carriers.

Privacy advocates agreed with Altschul that the industry's technical problems could mean an expansion of Carnivore use. David Sobel, general counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the FBI has not demonstrated that it can narrowly target the system. That raises the prospect that it will collect information from many people's communications while searching for a suspect's communications.

"It opens the door to the collection of communications of people who aren't even named in [court] orders," Sobel said.

Law enforcement agencies use two legal methods to collect information about suspects' communications. Under federal "pen register" procedures, authorities need only say that call information is relevant to an investigation to get court permission to obtain the origin or destination of electronic communication to and from a suspect. Those rules do not allow authorities to capture the content of communication.

But Sobel and Altschul said Carnivore cannot separate address information from the content of a message in a packet, and so authorities must be trusted to weed out data they are not allowed by law to have.

The standard is much higher to obtain the content of e-mail or telephone calls. It requires authorities to show probable cause that a crime has been committed and secure a court order signed by a judge.

In 1998, federal authorities used the pen register procedures more than 7,300 times to obtain phone logs. That same year, federal and state authorities received 1,329 court orders to capture the content of communications.

An official at the Federal Communications Commission declined to discuss Altschul's letter but said the agency intends to decide soon whether it will extend the deadline for meeting the law's requirement.

2001 The Washington Post Company


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), August 24, 2001


What's going on? I've checked this site three times today, to catch up with the latest. Nothing new has been posted.

Gosh, this sure must be a No News day.

-- QMan (qman@c-zone.net), August 25, 2001.

Could it be a lack of posters?

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), August 25, 2001.

Trust the authorities?????? man, FUCK THE FBI!

-- jimmie the weed (thinkasur@aol.com), August 26, 2001.

I don't think it's a lack of posters, Martin. I'm still watching the news, but I'm not really finding much. I've stopped mentioning small airplane crashes, of which there are still several. Most of the explosions have stopped, although the tv tower in Moscow just caught fire for a second time. The train derailments have stopped. The refinery problems are not being mentioned much.

The only things that appear to continue to increase are the layoffs and the bankruptcies.

-- Rachel Gibson (rgibson@hotmail.com), August 26, 2001.

For several long days, it's not been possible to log on to the site: "Not Found" ... at least that's been my observation, from southcentral Pennsylvania. Late this afternoon (Wednesday 29 August) is the first time I've been able to get onto Greenspun in days.


-- Andre Weltman (aweltman@state.pa.us), August 29, 2001.


All the Greenspun boards have been down. Just got word from the webmaster that all are up and running now.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), August 29, 2001.

Thanks Martin!

-- Andre Weltman (aweltman@state.pa.us), August 29, 2001.

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