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Privacy group critical of first release of 'Carnivore' data
(IDG) -- The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in Washington has charged that the FBI's first release of documents on its Carnivore Internet surveillance system yesterday doesn't include enough information to evaluate the technology for possible privacy violations.
EPIC acquired the 565 pages of data in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit it filed against the FBI in July. When EPIC complained that the FBI dragged its feet on the request, the agency was ordered by U.S. District Judge James Robertson at an August hearing to quantify the documents and develop a release schedule.
The agency identified 3,000 pages of material relating to Carnivore. When the FBI refused to commit to a date for processing the information, the judge ordered that Carnivore records be disclosed to EPIC every 45 days.
But according to a statement issued by EPIC Tuesday, the FBI's first installment of this data withheld 200 pages. Another 400 pages were sanitized, with many bearing nothing but page numbers, EPIC said. The FBI also refused to provide the Carnivore source code, according to the statement.
EPIC's original FOIA request sought all records and documents on Carnivore, including the FBI's own legal analysis of the system's impact on privacy, and source code describing how data is gathered.
"We intend to pursue the litigation until the relevant documents are disclosed," Marc Rotenberg, EPIC's executive director, said in Tuesday's statement. "We do not dispute the need of law enforcement to protect public safety or pursue criminals in the online world. But the use of investigative methods that monitor Internet traffic and capture the private communications of innocent users raises enormously important privacy issues that must be subject to public review and public approval."
According to FBI spokesperson Paul Bresson, the FBI is processing EPIC's FOIA request in compliance with the law. "It is a little early to be voicing complaints about something that is ongoing," said Bresson who defended the deletion of data from the documents. "Exemptions are made in interpretations of the laws that govern these types of documents."
The documents reveal that Carnivore was originally created in February 1997 under the name Omnivore, and it was originally proposed for a Sun Microsystems Inc. Solaris X86 computer. In June 1999, Omnivore was replaced by a system the FBI now calls Carnivore, which runs on a Microsoft Corp. Windows NT-based computer. The data released by the FBI also includes a discussion of interception of Voice over IP and reviews of tests for performance and recovery from attacks and crashes for both Omnivore and Carnivore.
The existence of Carnivore was revealed when an attorney for Atlanta-based Internet service provider Earthlink Inc. told a House Judiciary Committee in April that the FBI was requiring the company to install the system on its network to fulfill court-ordered surveillance of criminal suspects. But the company resisted the installation of the secretive system because it caused performance problems on its network. It also couldn't examine the technology to determine if its capturing of e-mail, IP addresses and other traffic violated the privacy of other customers.
In response to criticism from Congress and privacy advocates, the FBI announced last week that the Chicago-based Illinois Institute of Technology -- Research Institute (IITRI) has been selected to review Carnivore for possible privacy violations. But the research group has been criticized for agreeing to a number of constraints on the research that other universities refused to accept.
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