Privacy advocates have won another round in their fight to gain access to more information about the FBI's Carnivore e-mail surveillance system.
A federal judge this week ordered the FBI to expand its search for records about Carnivore, also known as DCS1000, technology that is installed at Internet service providers to monitor e-mail from criminal suspects. The court denied a motion for summary judgment and ordered the FBI to produce within 60 days "a further search" of its records pertaining to Carnivore as well as a device called EtherPeek, which manages network traffic.
The FBI has defended Carnivore by assuring the public that it only captures e-mail and other online information authorized for seizure in a court order, but the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has voiced concerns over potential abuse. EPIC sued the FBI, the investigative arm of the Justice Department, in July 2000 under the Freedom of Information Act so it could examine Carnivore-related documents.
EPIC "has raised a 'positive indication' that the FBI may have overlooked documents in other FBI divisions, most notably the offices of the General Counsel and Congressional and Public Affairs," U.S. District Judge James Robertson wrote in his order.
The court order marks the latest chapter in EPIC's ongoing legal battle with the Justice Department. The lawsuit could have significant implications for the government's tactics of monitoring Internet use in federal investigations.
According to the order, the FBI had completed its processing of EPIC's FOIA request, producing a search of 1,957 pages of material but releasing only 1,665 pages to EPIC. The privacy group claimed those records were inadequate, saying they only addressed technical aspects of Carnivore, not legal and policy implications.
EPIC General Counsel David Sobel said the FBI and Justice Department have been "very grudging" about the Carnivore information they are willing to release.
"A new court-supervised search is likely to result in the release of a lot of significant new information, particularly because the information that we're likely to get now is material dealing with the Justice Department and the FBI's assessment of the legal issues raised by the use of Carnivore," Sobel said. "I think now--especially after Sept. 11 when these kinds of techniques are likely to increase in use--it's even more important that information be made public and how the techniques are being used and how the Justice Department sees the legal issues."
In September 2000, the Justice Department commissioned IIT Research Institute, an arm of the Illinois Institute of Technology, to undergo a review of Carnivore. Two months later, the institute released its findings, saying the technology "protects privacy and enables lawful surveillance better than alternatives." The report said Carnivore provides investigators with no more information than is permitted by a given court order and that it poses no risk to Internet service providers.
The Justice Department and FBI could not be immediately reached for comment.