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Drug War Threatens Internet Privacy
House of Representatives  Concerned

GORSKI-CENAPS Web Publications
Published On: June 14, 2001          Updated On: August 07, 2001
© Terence T. Gorski, 2001

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Drug War Threatens Right To Privacy On the Internet

The war on drugs is threatening our basic right to privacy.  The Justice Department wants to implement a program code named Carnivore to use the internet to find drug dealers, drug users, and other criminals.  Although this allegations sounds like it is right out of the film Conspiracy Theory, Dick Armey of Texas, the majority leader of the House of Representatives is seriously concerned.  

Terence T. Gorski

Whatever happened to Carnivore? That's the question that Representative Dick Armey of Texas, the House majority leader, has posed in a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft.

The letter, which Mr. Armey's office will make public today, asks the Justice Department and the F.B.I to reconsider the use of the Internet wiretapping technology formerly known as Carnivore. It cited a decision on Monday by the United States Supreme Court restricting the use of thermal-imaging technology to peer inside a suspect's house, and suggested that Carnivore "similarly undermines the minimum expectation" of privacy that the court said was violated in the recent case, Kyllo v. United States.

"I respectfully ask that you consider the serious constitutional questions Carnivore has raised and respond with how you intend to address them," Mr. Armey wrote.

The Internet wiretap technology is a modified version of a common piece of software known as a packet sniffer that is used by Internet service providers to maintain their networks. It has raised fears among privacy advocates because the system initially taps substantial portions of traffic coming through an Internet service provider's networks in search of data from the target of the investigation.

Opponents of the system say law enforcement officials should be required to get the same kind of court order to use Carnivore as is required for full telephone wiretaps; the F.B.I. argues that it should be able to use the system under the relatively loose rules governing technologies that gather phone numbers dialed by suspects and the numbers of people calling them.

The F.B.I. officially renamed the system DCS-1000 in February, but news reports and politicians continue to refer to it as Carnivore.

"My first reaction when I saw the decision was it was about time somebody put a limit on this bag of magic tricks," Mr. Armey said in an interview. He added that if he was not satisfied with Mr. Ashcroft's response, he would seek a change in the Justice Department budget that would limit funds for the system.

An executive of EarthLink , an Internet service provider that resisted F.B.I. efforts last year to use Carnivore on its network, applauded the Armey letter. "Much as I don't necessarily align myself with Dick Armey, I agree with him," said Claudia B. Caplan, vice president for brand marketing.

Another critic of Carnivore, Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, said the technology went beyond what the law allowed. "The use of Carnivore should be suspended until the federal wiretap statutes can be amended to protect the privacy rights of Americans," he said.

But Clifford S. Fishman of the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America, a wiretap expert, said the Kyllo case might not be an apt comparison with Carnivore, because the Kyllo case hinged on whether any court oversight was required. "I don't see the decision as totally trashing what the government is seeking" with Carnivore, he said.

A Justice Department spokeswoman, Chris J. Watney, said, "The attorney general is looking at the Carnivore matter, is very concerned about it and will respond to Dick Armey directly" about his letter.

Terry Gorski and Other Members of the GORSKI-CENAPS Team Are Available To Train & Consult On Areas Related To Addiction & Mental Health
Gorski - CENAPS, 17900 Dixie Hwy, Homewood, IL 60430, 708-799-5000,,

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