NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Security Experts Question Carnivore Report

December 5, 2000

The Carnivore system has drawn criticism since its existence was first revealed in July. It is a modified version of a common piece of software and is installed at the behest of the Federal Bureau of Investigation at the Internet service provider of those suspected of criminal or national security offenses.

Carnivore then captures suspects' Internet communications much as wiretaps do on phones. But lawmakers and civil liberties advocates are concerned about its potential for invasion of privacy and they raise questions about the limits of government surveillance.

  • In a draft report released on Nov. 17, the Illinois Institute of Technology's Research Institute commented favorably on Carnivore.
  • But an informal group composed of some of the best-known names in computer security has now come forward to fault the Illinois draft.
  • They contend that it was designed too narrowly to answer some of the most pressing questions surrounding Carnivore.
  • The "limited nature of the analysis described in the draft report simply cannot support a conclusion that Carnivore is correct, safe or always consistent with legal limitations," the security experts wrote.

Privacy advocates point out that the Justice Department wants to employ less restrictive rules in using Carnivore than those governing the use of wiretaps.

The security experts contend the legal framework for wiretapping must be revised for the digital age -- and that the system must undergo continuing review.

Source: John Schwartz, "Computer Security Experts Question Internet Wiretaps," New York Times, December 5, 2000.


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