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ACLU Urges Congressional Mailing Campaign on FBI's 'Carnivore'

4 August 2000

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is inviting citizens to bombard their legislators with e-mail and faxes urging them to help pull the plug on "Carnivore," the FBI's e-mail surveillance system.

The ACLU's page, http://aclu.org/action/carnivore106.html, lets visitors tell Congress and the White House what they think about Carnivore, a device designed to intercept vast quantities of e-mail messages and sift through them to find those that meet the specifications of a court order.

Consumer privacy advocates are concerned the system could lead to a "Big Brother"-type scenario, with the FBI monitoring communications between innocent citizens.

Visitors to the site can add their own message to a preset form letter and send it to their member of Congress or to President Clinton - or both - via e-mail and/or fax.

"It is my understanding that Carnivore is unnecessary. Internet service providers can and have already been providing law enforcement agencies with the information for which they have a court order," a pre-included portion of the letter reads. "There is no need for the dragnet that Carnivore represents when ISPs have already been zeroing in on legitimate targets."

The ACLU and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) have filed expedited Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) inquiries with the Justice Department, requesting any and all information relating to Carnivore.

On Wednesday, a US District Court judge gave the Justice Department ten days to come up with a timetable under which it would comply with the FOIA request.

Designed to attach directly to an Internet service provider's internal system, Carnivore is a device capable of sifting through vast quantities of e-mail messages to find those that meet specifications of a court order. The Justice Department has assured privacy groups that messages that don't meet the specific parameters of a given court order are in fact never read.

But the DOJ's assurances have done little to massage concerns of lawmakers and consumer groups, many of whom worry about the system's potential for abuse.

On Thursday, Attorney General Janet Reno agreed to release Carnivore's technical specifications to a select group of non-FBI consultants charged with finding any vulnerabilities in the system.

The issue already is a hot-button issue on Capitol Hill, where a large group of lawmakers have called on Reno to pull the plug on Carnivore - at least until the independent review is completed. Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., is crafting legislation that would prevent the FBI from using Carnivore and devices like it.

Reno has vowed the system will remain operational until further notice.

Reported by Newsbytes, www.newsbytes.com.

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