US email sniffer program to be reviewed

US Attorney General Janet Reno last week said a two-step process will be used to review the US FBI's email sniffer program, Carnivore, which has raised privacy concerns.

US Attorney General Janet Reno last week said a two-step process will be used to review the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI's) email sniffer program, Carnivore, which has raised privacy concerns.

"The first step will be to have an individual expert or group of experts, probably from an academic community, conduct a detailed review of the source code," Reno said.

The US debate comes as opposition to New Zealand IT minister Paul Swain’s proposed interception of email bill is gathering here. (See: Swain's email bill cops flack).

Reno said the group would then probably report to a panel of interested parties, such as telecommunications and computer industry executives, and privacy experts.

"I'm very anxious to get this review underway," Reno said.

"The FBI is working on it, and representatives of the Bureau are meeting with privacy advocates and representatives of the telecommunications and computer industry to pursue it and to develop a protocol for review."

The FBI can utilise the Carnivore technology to intercept emails flowing through an ISPs (Internet Service Provider's) network and sent by suspects under investigation. Law enforcement officials must obtain a court order before intercepting messages.

FBI officials have said Carnivore has been used in about 25 cases during the past year to assist in criminal and national security investigations.

Federal law enforcement began developing Carnivore about three years ago after officers began seeking court orders to intercept email during criminal investigations.

The FBI contends that the use of Carnivore complies with federal wiretap law and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

However, privacy advocates, the American Civil Liberties Union and ISPs have questioned Carnivore's use and said they are concerned about widespread e-mail surveillance.

Reno said Thursday that there were no plans to suspend the Carnivore program.

"I think we will continue to make sure that it is implemented carefully and that there is no abuse in its use when there is valid law enforcement purposes for it," Reno said.

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