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Friday, 14 September, 2001, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
FBI probes ISPs for clues
Police in Boston AP
Police investigating online activities for clues
The FBI is scouring e-mail accounts for clues as to who might have been behind the terror attacks on New York City and Washington DC.

Two major US internet service providers have already confirmed they are co-operating with the investigation.

But privacy advocates are concerned the authorities may stampede over digital civil liberties in their zeal to catch the attackers and prevent possible future terrorist strikes.

The FBI has shied from providing details about its investigation, nor whether its controversial Carnivore e-mail monitoring program is involved.

'Relevant and helpful'

The two ISPs concerned, AOL and EarthLink, confirmed they were assisting authorities with information from their user and connection logs.

There will be a lot of data-collecting cloaked in national security concern

Lori Fena, Truste
"Following the tragic events on Tuesday we did co-operate with federal investigators and provided them with information that we hope is relevant and helpful to their ongoing criminal investigation," said an AOL spokesman.

Earthlink said the company had received similar subpoenas from the federal government.

"We're co-operating, but we're not installing any surveillance equipment on our networks," said an Earthlink spokesperson.

Routine destruction

And in the UK, the authorities have asked phone companies and ISPs to keep records of all communications on the day of the attacks.

The National Hi-Tech Crime Unit, set up earlier this year to fight crime related to information technology, said data stored might hold vital evidence about those responsible for the violence.

Police said they were not looking for anything in particular but made the request as text message, e-mail and voice message logs were routinely destroyed after 48 hours.

Last year, the FBI was heavily criticised when it revealed it had installed Carnivore devices at several ISPs.

Carnivore criticised

Carnivore, now also called DCS1000, records all the electronic communications of a suspect.

Rescue workers overwhelmed with the task AFP
Overwhelming: The search for victims
But privacy advocates fear the software could lead to random surveillance of e-mail messages unrelated to an FBI investigation.

"There will be a lot of data-collecting cloaked in national security concern," said Lori Fena, chairwoman of Truste, a non-profit organisation concerned about online privacy.

Experts said it was unclear how useful an ISP's records would be to the investigation, particularly because of the amount of information involved.

Mass of information

AOL membership recently surpassed 31 million accounts, and EarthLink has about 5 million subscribers.

Once you have the e-mail, you can look at all the other information in it, including the entire route

Brian O'Higgins, Entrust
Analysts said the FBI could find clues if they already knew which users they were looking for.

"Once you have the e-mail, you can look at all the other information in it, including the entire route," said Brian O'Higgins, of security internet firm Entrust.

But the ability to find relevant information may depend on the techniques used by potential suspects.

It is possible to communicate across the internet in a secure manner, encrypting crucial information.

The BBC's Nick Ravenscroft
reports on the limitations of email surveillance
See also:

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