Essay on Internet Privacy - Carnivore, and the Power Of FBI Surveillance

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Carnivore: The Power Of FBI Surveillance

Abstract: This paper provides an analysis of the privacy issues associated with governmental Internet surveillance, with a focus on the recently disclosed FBI tool known as Carnivore. It concludes that, while some system of surveillance is necessary, more mechanisms to prevent abuse of privacy must exist.

Communication surveillance has been a controversial issue in the US since the 1920's, when the Supreme Court deemed unwarranted wiretaps legitimate in the case of Olmstead v United States. Since telephone wires ran over public grounds, and the property of Olmstead was not physically violated, the wiretap was upheld as lawful. However, the Supreme Court overturned this ruling
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However, the same technology that empowers the general public also empowers criminals and terrorists. Is it worth it to compromise the privacy of the general public in order to monitor the behavior of a select few potential criminals? Thus far, the consensus has been 'no'; every publicized effort by law enforcement to introduce general surveillance to the Internet has been met by loud public outcry. [Riley] The public simply will not permit law enforcement to do any form of monitoring that is not accompanied by probable cause and a search warrant.

In July of 2000, the FBI announced Carnivore. The public reacted with visceral distrust, and within days, virtually everyone connected to a network and in the habit of reading forwards had heard of it. Polls from September 2000 "list online privacy as at or near the top of consumer concerns" [Riley]. The details of Carnivore were not announced immediately, so the facts were quickly shrouded in a mist of Orwellian sensationalism. "Big Brother is reading your email," a fox news headline announced in summary. [Riley] Indeed, there was a good deal of justification for the general paranoia: the FBI had been using the product for over a year already without notifying the public. In the wake of all this controversy, it has become exceedingly difficult to obtain an objective account of what Carnivore actually is. Groups with an interest in
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