FBI Not Ready to Disclose Information on Carnivore

WASHINGTON (08/10/2000) - The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has informed a U.S. congressman who is seeking information about an e-mail sniffer program known as Carnivore that the agency is not ready to release details about the system.

The FBI, in a letter Wednesday to Representative Bob Barr, a Republican from Georgia, said the bureau was "not presently in a position" to provide the documents he requested, an FBI spokesman confirmed Thursday.

"There remains substantial public misunderstanding and misinformation about the system," John Collingwood, assistant director for public affairs, wrote in the letter, which was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article Thursday.

Carnivore has been used by the FBI in criminal and national security investigations to read the e-mail of suspects and determine with whom the suspects are exchanging e-mail. The FBI has said its use is legal under U.S. wiretap law, but privacy advocates aren't convinced that Carnivore meets those strict guidelines and have criticized the FBI for using the technology.

The FBI still faces a hearing Wednesday in U.S. District Court at which it is to supply the Electronic Privacy Information Center information on the status of its request for details about Carnivore under the Freedom of Information Act. [See "UPDATE - Judge Orders FBI to Open Up Carnivore," August 3.]Barr, who had no comment on the letter on Thursday, according to his spokesman, introduced the Digital Privacy Act of 2000 on July 28. The legislation updates wiretapping laws to enhance privacy protections and bring them in line with technological developments, such as the Internet, wireless phones and electronic mail. [See "ACLU Calls for Limits on FBI's Carnivore system," July 14.]The bill would extend reporting statutes so that law enforcement officials would have to report on its interception of electronic communications, such as e-mail. It would also block the introduction of electronic evidence in court if it is obtained illegally and prevent the government from tracking the location of cell phone users without a court order.

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