FBI could use Carnivore to sniff wireless packets

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation may well use its packet-sniffing Carnivore system to intercept wireless data, because the wireless industry is now struggling to develop a technical and legal framework that would narrow law enforcement intercepts.

In a letter earlier this month, the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) penned concerns about lagging packet data protocols to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The CTIA letter acknowledges that the wireless industry is technologically behind in compliance with the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement (CALEA), a 1994 statute designed to let law enforcement carry out wiretappinglike functions in the digital age.

Because there is not yet a technology or legal framework to allow law enforcement agents to intercept suspect wireless communications and maintain adequate privacy levels, Carnivore may end up being the de facto method employed by officials, CTIA ventures in the Aug. 15 letter.

Carnivore -- an Internet surveillance or e-mail sniffing system the FBI uses to intercept suspect e-mail being passed through ISPs -- has drawn the ire of privacy advocates and politicians alike.

Early this summer, House Majority Leader Dick Armey asked the FBI to look into the possibility that the system infringes on individuals' Constitutional rights, after the Supreme Court ruled that thermal imaging devices "erode" privacy guarantees promised in the Fourth Amendment.

A wireless industry group is just now beginning its efforts to come up with an interface between carriers and law enforcement agencies for intercepting packets as mandated by CALEA, CTIA said.

Carriers were supposed to have methods in place by Sept. 30, 2001.

"If the industry is not provided with the guidance and time to develop solutions for packet surveillance that intercept only the target's communications, it seems probable that Carnivore, which intercepts all communications in the pathway without the affirmative intervention of the carrier, will be widely implemented," reads the letter.

CTIA on behalf of carriers asked FCC for "blanket extension" originally requested a year ago to develop CALEA-mandated technology.

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