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.
"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
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.