FBI says new Net-tapping app will aid in crime investigations

FBI says new Net-tapping app will aid in crime investigations

By Shruti Dat'

GCN Staff

JULY 24—The FBI's new evidence-gathering tool has ignited a privacy debate about whether the government should be able to access private Internet exchanges to hunt down suspects.

FBI officials at a briefing Friday scrambled to deflect the negative attention its e-mail filtering application, Carnivore, has received during the past two weeks.

Bureau officials said agents will use the application, which it has been in development for three years, to collect 'hard evidence, not intelligence.'

Developed by the bureau's Internet technology team at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., Carnivore can be tuned to intercept specific e-mail messages when installed on an Internet service provider's network. The program, however, cannot decode encrypted e-mail.

To do such Internet filtering, the bureau must obtain a court order, just as it does for telephone wiretaps. The bureau began developing Carnivore because agents found that Internet service providers were generally unable to easily isolate specific communications to the exclusion of all others, FBI officials said.

To justify the use of Carnivore, bureau agents will have to demonstrate probable cause, identify the telecommunications facility from which communications will be intercepted, give a description of the types of information to be intercepted and name the people suspected of committing a crime, FBI officials said. The filtering cannot go on indefinitely, the bureau noted. Court orders generally are limited to 30 days.

After receiving a court order, FBI officials with the help of the Internet service provider would install the Carnivore system at the provider's site. The application, which runs under Microsoft Windows NT, requires at least a 400-MHz Pentium PC as a host server. So far, the bureau has fewer than a half-dozen agents trained to install the app.

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