Vinton Cerf Reviews FBI's Carnivore

Gaining a full understanding of the potential of Carnivore, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's e-mail surveillance system, to invade privacy would require access to the guts of the system. The FBI won't make it available to the public, but it is inviting selected individuals to take a look at the system in an effort to quell some of the controversy that it has created.

One of those individuals is Internet pioneer Vinton Cerf, vice president of the Internet Society in Reston, Va. Cerf examined Carnivore, three weeks ago after signing a nondisclosure agreement prohibiting him from releasing certain details about the system.

"I don't believe what the FBI has done is technologically abusive," said Cerf after an appearance this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is investigating the monitoring system.

Carnivore was designed to analyze thousands of messages and capture only those being sought by police. It "could be abused if it were used wrongly," but that's no different from other commercially available technologies for monitoring e-mail and other forms of communications, said Cerf.

Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress are looking at legislation that would set some restraints on Carnivore and the systems that may follow it. "This is something that is terrifying to a lot of people," said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held the earlier hearing.

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