|Montréal, 6 janvier 2001 / No 74||
by Ralph Maddocks
It is always interesting to read quotations from famous Americans of the past. People like Benjamin Franklin among whose many sayings we find the following about people who
Some time ago, I wrote about the British introducing the RIP Bill aimed
at giving the police and other agencies the right to read people's e-mails
and of the furor it produced (see RIP NO LONGER MEANS
REQUIESCAT IN PACE, le QL, no
59). The idea being that various security agencies would have the right
to place a black box at an Internet Service Provider and furthermore that
it would be an offence to reveal this fact to anyone, especially to the
person having his or her communications intercepted and read.
Around the same time it came to my notice that the FBI was similarly equipped to interfere with people's e-mails. The technology employed being somewhat similar. The system employed by the FBI (known originally as
Constructing the monster
The FBI began the Carnivore project some four years ago, in February 1997, in an effort to design a system that could perform the equivalent of a telephone wiretap on Internet communications. Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act referred to a previous system, dating back to early 1996, but this system has remained classified and its existence is only hinted at. In an ACLU request for information mention was made of something called Etherpeek along with Carnivore. Concerns about Carnivore expressed by members of Congress resulted in the Department of Justice (DOJ) funding a study of the system by an independent team of researchers. Several of the better university's computer schools decided not to submit proposals due to the restrictive guidelines, and in mid-September, the DOJ selected the Illinois Institute of Technology Research Institute (IITRI) to analyze the system.
The institute's seven-person review team issued a report last November which, after sanitizing by the DOJ, confirmed that the FBI's snoopware could eavesdrop on people's e-mails in a manner limited by a court order. However, it expressed concern about the absence of any method of ensuring that the FBI does not abuse the system. They noted, in their conclusion, that the
This presumably intentional lack of accountability means that it is possible for FBI agents to pry into the communications of suspected criminals, public figures or even the average unwitting citizen with equal ease – and without a court order – all without leaving any evidence behind that they had done so. An ability which undoubtedly led to cheering in the hallowed halls of the J. Edgar Hoover Building. The report stated that the system does not over-collect but does more or less what it is supposed to do. Replying to criticism that the system can monitor all traffic, the report noted that
Despite the assurances that Carnivore does not
As reviewers noted, the system is a tool without safeguards to prevent misuse, and does not keep track of who accessed it or when. All operators have the same username –
As might be expected, the ACLU reacted instantly to the favourable nature of this analysis and criticized it before the DOJ published it on the Internet, where it may now be found as a 121 page PDF document (see the Independent Technical Review of the Carnivore System – Final Report).
Soon after its release, the Electronic Privacy Information Center reiterated criticisms of the review saying that the analysis
The review report also gave more details of two other components, which – along with Carnivore – form the DragonWare Suite. Packeteer and CoolMiner are the names of the two components that help FBI agents to analyze the raw data collected by Carnivore.
Carnivore: The Next Generation
In this fast moving snoopware world, predictably, a second version of Carnivore is undergoing preliminary tests. Whether it will incorporate any of the suggestions contained in the review report, such as a request that the FBI create separate versions of the software, one to satisfy court orders to trace where messages are going, and another to actually tap into the message content itself, is not known. Another suggestion made was that new versions of the software should identify operators and provide a log of what each one did, so that agents may be held accountable for their use of the system. The reviewers also recommended that the configuration of the system – including which users are targeted and how much information is collected – be tied indelibly to the actual data. Finally, although the team agreed that Carnivore's current source code ought not to be released for security reasons, it believed that future versions ought to be.
Those objecting to this initiative of the FBI, base their objections on various grounds, the main one being its unconstitutionality, especially the 4th Amendment which prohibits such extensive invasions of privacy and property as are involved in the use of Carnivore. The relevant passage reads,
Surely Internet communications qualify as
One of the most interesting things about the Internet, which has enabled it to prosper and grow so much, is the lack of central control. While some would use this for criminal purposes the consequences of giving up this freedom would be far worse if we were to abandon this welcome chaos for government control. The advantages of the Internet are available to us because of this lack of central control. The US government restrained Internet for three decades and a return to that state of affairs would be not be greeted by the plaudits of the Internet using multitudes. If Carnivore were to be installed on all US servers, as it undoubtedly will be if the FBI is given a free hand, then much of the world's Internet traffic will be held hostage.
Remembering Echelon (see BIG BROTHER HAS BEEN AROUND FOR A LONG TIME, le QL,
Given the US propensity to see terrorists, where it doesn't see drug dealers, the FBI could seize control of all Internet traffic under the pretext of national security and thus begin a process of blocking
Imagine what may happen if the FBI wanted to monitor all telephone calls and read everyone's mail to see what information they could gather about suspected criminals. They could claim to be doing this in order to create one of their beloved profiles, say that of an average drug user. Remember too that the British make the Internet user surrender their key so that they can read any coded messages, an act analogous to giving them your house key. Now in the USA there a bill before Congress which would make it a felony to notify you if you are being investigated through a wiretap warrant.
Electronic communications are slowly superceding the use of the old style letter and postal service. As they do, we may well find that agencies like the FBI or MI5 who use snoopware like Carnivore today, will have become so established tomorrow that all our communications will be subjected to their tender mercies. The future is likely to see an increasing number of mergers all types of communication services, whether they be satellite, television, telephone or Internet.
Once this happens and a few major communications suppliers are supplying all US services it will become even easier for snooping to occur. Along with increasing use of the Internet to bank, shop and conduct other transactions the time is not far away when Michigan FBI supervising agent, Paul George's prophesy of last April will come true. He said,
The tyrannical nature of snoopware like Carnivore will be used more and more by governments to infringe upon our privacy and remove our freedoms. As the use of Carnivore spreads, then inevitably mistakes will be made; innocent people will be investigated and intimidated and, especially for Americans, their cherished freedom of speech will be jeopardized. In the past, we have seen attacks on what some consider to be politically incorrect statements, attacks on pornography and even attacks on books considered by some to be
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