Open review is vital for e-mail-tapping program

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The Carnivore Internet surveillance system is an online e-mail-tapping program that enables the FBI to gather evidence on suspects via their e-mails. But testing of the system has been hampered by restrictions that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has put on review procedures. A thorough, independent review would identify shortcomings in the system, and speed its use for the FBI, according to Gartner research.

“Like any surveillance tool, the responsible use of the technology depends on the security clearances and the procedures used by government officials,” said John Pescatore, Gartner research director. “The technology itself, however, must be tested for security and accuracy before evidence derived from Carnivore can stand up in court.”

Pescatore explained the situation by using wiretapping as an example. “If tapped telephone conversations could not be confirmed to originate from a specific phone number – or it could not be confirmed that the voice on the tape belonged to a particular suspect or witness – then the wiretapping technology would be useless to investigators. Carnivore must also reduce the collection of information that is not directly indicated in the court order that authorizes the collection. The integrity of Carnivore’s e-mail surveillance system must withstand independent technological scrutiny before it can be accepted by the public and the courts.”

Universities, invited by the DOJ to review the surveillance device, declined due to limitations placed on the review process by the DOJ.

An open review would assure the DOJ that Carnivore has been designed securely and will not risk DOJ evidence-collecting efforts and integrity. It would also assure the public that Carnivore would not risk their privacy while the DOJ was investigating crime.

According to Pescatore, the current review restrictions prevent the DOJ from providing either of those assurances.

“Any downside of an open review – including limited exposure of source code – will be vastly outweighed by the increased security of the Carnivore tool and the increased public confidence in the ability of the DOJ to use it effectively,” continued Pescatore. “Carnivore has the potential to become an extremely powerful and positive force in crime investigation. As the NSA’s experience with the Clipper Chip has shown, the potential downside to mishandling this situation is scrapping the technology altogether. The DOJ should take every step to avoid a similar public relations disaster.”

Gartner

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