Carnivore Report 'Offers No New Answers'

By Lawrence Morahan | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

( - In its final report to the U.S. Justice Department, an independent review board said there were significant risks and strengths in the FBI's controversial Carnivore Internet surveillance system - but the report did little to ally the concerns of conservatives and civil rights groups who believe the system is intrusive.

Rep. Dick Armey (R.-Texas), said in a statement the review was "superficial," did nothing to restore Americans' confidence in the confidentiality of their online transactions, and offered no new answers.

"If this administration were actually interested in an honest evaluation of Carnivore, it would have shut the system down until the serious privacy concerns had been adequately addressed. Instead, this review by a team with clear ties to this administration raises more concerns than it answers," Armey said.

The report by researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology Research Institute and the Chicago-Kent College of Law was published this week on the Justice Department's web site.

Researchers who first identified technical problems with the FBI's e-mail surveillance system told the Justice Department that they still have "serious concerns" about the technology, however.

The "limited nature of the analysis described in [IIT's] draft report simply cannot support a conclusion that Carnivore is correct, safe or always consistent with legal limitations," said researchers from organizations that include telecommunications labs and the University of Pennsylvania.

But in its final report, the IIT researchers said that Carnivore actually reduces the risk of unauthorized snooping by FBI agents.

"Carnivore reduces, but does not eliminate, risk of both intentional acquisition of electronic communication information by FBI personnel, but introduces little additional risk of acquisition by persons other than FBI personnel," the report said.

The IIT researchers recommended, however, that the Justice Department should retain tight control of Carnivore, and that all comprehensive searches require Justice Department approval.

The American Civil Liberties Union also criticized the final report, saying much of it remained unchanged from a draft version released last month.

Carnivore is a software program used on a personal computer that examines a data stream on the net for individual court-ordered intercepts. The Carnivore system, which cannot be used without a court order, is installed by the FBI in the facilities of Internet providers to monitor the e-mail traffic of suspected criminals.

The intercepts are ordered by a federal judge or magistrate, but only after both the FBI and Justice Department authorizes an application for the order during the course of a criminal or counterintelligence operation.