FBI Given Deadline on 'Carnivore' Issues

W A S H I N G T O N, Aug. 3, 2000 -- A federal judge gave the FBI 10 daysto respond to a privacy group’s request for information about thegovernment’s “Carnivore” e-mail surveillance system.

The Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center isseeking documents and software concerning the inner workings ofCarnivore, which is designed to monitor and capture e-mail going toor from people under criminal investigation.

The privacy group had asked the FBI to grant expedited review ofits request filed under the federal Freedom of Information Act. TheFBI agreed to grant such review.

But EPIC lawyer David L. Sobel told U.S. District Judge JamesRobertson the FBI’s promise to act “as soon as practicable” wastoo open-ended.

Was the Court Order Moot?

Government lawyer Lisa Barsoomian contended the group’s requestfor a court order was moot because the FBI had agreed to expediteits review.

Robertson said, “I do not consider the Freedom of InformationAct to be a vehicle for getting access to government documents inreal time through litigation.”

However, he directed the FBI to report within 10 days on when itwould begin producing any documents that must be provided under thefreedom of information law.

After the hearing, Sobel called the judge’s action “a very goodresult.”

Similar to a Wire Tap

Carnivore devices are installed at a suspect’s Internet serviceprovider to scan the addressing information coming from or going toa suspect’s computer.

Privacy and civil liberties groups have raised concerns aboutthe tool, and some members of Congress have said they will work onlegislation to rein in Carnivore.

At a congressional hearing last month, FBI officials defendedCarnivore as an investigative tool similar to a telephone wiretap,saying it is used only with proper legal authorization. FBIofficials objected to making information about Carnivore public ongrounds it could allow people to undermine the system.

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