Internet and Technology - Carnivore and the Public's Privacy
Abstract: This paper discusses the potential for widespread invasion of the public's privacy on the Internet by the United States government. In particular, the paper will address the Carnivore system employed by the FBI. It will show the privacy issues that are raised by the FBI's attempt to create an Internet wiretap system.
In today's world, where the Internet has pervaded so many aspects of our daily lives, it is important to consider the security of the information one transmits digitally over a network. Ideally, any transmitted data would reach its intended destination without ever being visible to anyone else. Unfortunately, the very nature of computer networks makes this impossible. Carnivore attempts to take advantage of this in order to create the equivalent of an Internet wiretap. However, the present implementation raises certain privacy issues.
Carnivore is the FBI's attempt to create the digital equivalent of an analog wiretap. Carnivore functions like many other packet sniffers (network programs that capture all data that they see) that have been available for years; it enters a promiscuous mode where it collects every packet available on the network, whether or not the packet is intended for that machine. Carnivore is then able to piece the packets together in order to reconstruct the original data. The intent is to capture email content without needing to go through the process of obtaining legal access to the files on the mail server of the Internet Service Provider (ISP). However, there is no reason why the same process could not be used to reconstruct other user transactions such as instant messages, chat rooms, or even the web pages that are viewed.
Carnivore allows for the filtering of packets. A packet is the most basic piece of data sent over a network, consisting of a header, which indicates such information as the intended recipient, and the data. The packet filtering functionality is provided in an effort to prevent the collection of data from sources that the FBI has no right to monitor. The filtering can be done based on Internet Protocol (IP) address or email headers (the FBI compares examining an email header to looking at the front of an envelope). The FBI denies that any filtering is done on content, except for the parties that are legally being observed. While there is no proof that the FBI filters content that they have no right to, the ability to do so is there, and that provides the potential for misuse. History is full of examples of law enforcement officials abusing the power provided to them.
Carnivore is deployed on standard Windows NT machines. After getting approval from a judge through the same process that is used for wiretaps, the computer is attached to the network at the Internet Service Provider and begins collecting data. This data is stored locally on a...