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Cage door closing on Carnivore

FBI email snooping tech under more pressure

A powerful US lawmaker yesterday demanded that the FBI re-examine the extent to which its email-sniffing tool, Carnivore, infringes on privacy.

This is another reason for the public to heed last month's revelations that the worldwide snooping network Echelon exists and the European Commission's call for the general public to use email encryption as a matter of course. A vast amount of UK email and web traffic is routed through the US.

House of Representatives Majority Leader Dick Armey sent a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft asking him to take a look at Carnivore in light of a recent Supreme Court case involving privacy and police technology.

On Monday the US' highest court ruled that thermal imaging devices "erode the privacy guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment". This was the seed for Armey's request.

"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 a specific court warrant has been issued," Armey wrote.

The FBI has sought to distance its email-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 travelling over the internet only when it has court orders permitting it to do so. But FBI representatives added that there are rare 'emergency' cases where the system was used without such orders.


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