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Tuesday, 25 July, 2000, 04:12 GMT 05:12 UK
Congress fears FBI internet tap tool
Computer BBC
The FBI says Carnivore will confront cyber-crime
Members of the US Congress have quizzed FBI officials about a new software program that scans e-mail of people under investigation.

FBI officials were pressed by both parties on the use of Carnivore, amid fears it could be used for widespread surveillance of Americans' e-mail.

Many of the crimes that we confront everyday in the physical world are beginning to appear in the online world

US Justice Department official
The program, which came to light in April, intercepts the e-mails of a criminal suspect from the mass of data passing through an internet service provider (ISP).

It reportedly can sift through millions of e-mails a second.

Republican Representative Charles Canady called the hearings after privacy groups protested that the software would snoop through the e-mails of ordinary citizens.

The FBI has used the program for about 25 investigations
"We should be sensitive to any potential for abuse," said Mr Canady.

"Even a system with the best of intentions to carry out essential law enforcement functions may be a cause for concern if its use is not properly monitored."

Democrat Representative Melvin Watt said: "There seems to be a growing level of generalised concern about Big Brotherism."

No 'fishing'

FBI officials rejected these suggestions though, saying the program had a narrow focus and could only be used under the specific terms of a court order.

Capitol BBC
The system came to light during congressional testimony
The FBI's Assistant Director Donald Kerr said the software did not search through every message looking for words such as "bomb" and "drugs".

Instead, it worked on certain strict criteria, such as looking at messages from a particular account.

"We don't have the right or the authority to just go fishing," he said, adding the FBI had used the program for about 25 investigations so far.

Some ISPs have argued against the program, saying they can already perform some of Carnivore's functions themselves.

There seems to be a growing level of generalised concern about Big Brotherism

Rep Melvin Watt
Kevin DiGregory, deputy associate attorney-general, told Congress that law enforcement had to have the appropriate technology to fight the rising cyber-crime.

"Many of the crimes that we confront everyday in the physical world are beginning to appear in the online world...threats, extortion, fraud, identity theft and child pornography."

He said a timid response could "render cyberspace a safe haven for criminals and terrorists," where they could operate without fear of surveillance.

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See also:

13 Jul 00 | Americas
Carnivore upsets privacy groups
08 Apr 00 | Americas
US struggles with cyber-crime
12 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
'Snooping' bill protests stepped up
01 Jul 98 | Europe
Spying on the Net
25 May 00 | Sci/Tech
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