with permission from NewsMax.com
The Feds Can Read Your E-Mail
First it was Echelon
the global eavesdropping
system Uncle Sam
have been using to spy on satellite-transmitted phone
s and fax
messages. Now it's Carnivore
, the FBI
electronic snooping device that can read your e-mail right off your mail
Capable of scanning millions of e-mails a second, Carnivore
be used to monitor everybody
's e-mail messages and transactions,
including banking and Internet commerce
. If they want to, the feds
find out what book
s you're buying online, what kind of banking
transactions you conduct - in short, everything
you do when you go
online and send e-mail, whether private or commercial.
The FBI has been quietly monitoring e-mail
for about a year. Two
weeks ago the feds went public and explained the high-tech
operation to what the Wall Street Journal
called "a roomful of
astonished industry specialists."
According to the bureau, they've used Carnivore - so called because it
can digest the "meat
" of the information they're looking for - in less
than 100 cases, in most cases to locate hackers
but also to track terrorist
But there is nothing to stop Carnivore from making a meal of your
e-mail messages and transactions if they decide that's what they want to
do and can get a judge to issue a court order
allowing them to tap your
e-mail as they would your phones.
comfort considering the underhanded
means the feds
employed to get court orders to raid the Branch Davidian
to win a judge
's permission to stage what amounted to an illegal armed
raid on Elian Gonzalez
's Miami home.
Carnivore is nothing but a store-bought personal computer
that the FBI installs in the offices of Internet service provider
The computer is kept in a locked cage for about a month and a half
Every day an agent comes by and retrieves the previous day's e-mail
sent to or by someone suspected of a crime.
But critics say that Carnivore, like some ravening beast, is simply too
hungry to be trusted - that it gives the feds far too much access to too
much private information.
"This is more of a vacuum cleaner-type approach - it apparently rifles
," David Sobel, general counsel for the Electronic
Privacy Information Center
, told Fox News.
"It's potentially much more invasive
than telephone surveillance."
could conceivably monitor all the e-mail that moves through
an ISP - not merely messages sent to or from the subject allegedly being
monitored. Critics compare it to eavesdropping on all the phones in a
neighborhood simply to zero in
on just one phone.
Disturbingly, the FBI has prevailed in challenges against forcing ISPs to
allow Carnivore to be installed in their offices. According to the Wall
, one unidentified ISP
put up a legal fight against
Carnivore early this year and lost.
The FBI defends Carnivore, insisting it is used selectively and monitors
only the e-mail of the subject. They say that messages belonging to those
not being probed, even if criminal, would not be admissible in court.
"The volume of e-mail in a location is generally fairly small and being
managed by a small number of e-mail servers on a fairly low-speed
network," said Marcus Thomas, chief of the FBI's cyber technology
"The system is not unlike 'sniffers
' used within the networks every day."
That fails to satisfy critics such as Sobel. He says Carnivore is similar to
Russia's surveillance system, called "SORM
," which all Russian ISPs are
forced to install to allow the government to spy on whomever it
Itís also similar, he says, to the notorious Echelon
the National Security
's global eavesdropping system, which intercepts
telecommunications transmissions from around the world and looks for
s that could indicate illegal activity
"Carnivore is really the latest indication of a very aggressive stance that
the bureau is taking in collecting as much information as technically
," Sobel said.
FBI spokesman Paul Bresson insists that law-abiding citizens have
nothing to fear from Carnivore. "Anytime we develop a system, we're
basically balancing the interests of national security against that of the
privacy of the public," he said.
"This issue's always going to come up. We're always going to get
questions. We understand that."