Beyond Carnivore: FBI Eyes Packet Taps

Expect the FBI to expand its Internet wiretapping program, says a source familiar with the plan.

Expect the FBI to expand its Internet wiretapping program, says a source familiar with the plan.

Stewart Baker, a partner with law firm Steptoe & Johnson, is a former general counsel to the National Security Agency. He says the FBI has spent the last two years developing a new surveillance architecture that would concentrate Internet traffic in several key locations where all packets, not just e-mail, could be wiretapped. It is now planning to begin implementing this architecture using the powers it has under existing wiretapping laws.

The FBI has acknowledged a program called Carnivore, which sniffs e-mail messages, but the new program is more extensive, Baker says.

“The FBI has been gradually developing a set of guidelines, standards – call it what you will – a list of what law enforcement wants from packet data communications systems,” Baker said. “And they are in the process of unveiling that over the next few months to ISPs and router manufacturers and the like.”

ISPs, Web hosters, vendors and other firms handling critical Internet infrastructure should expect the FBI trying to schedule meetings to deliver the details of their offering, and show the document containing the technical specifications, Baker said. He indicated that details of what this new surveillance architecture should look like are not clear. It is also possible the FBI has retained some well-known data infrastructure consulting firms to develop its new technology.

The new architecture is different from Carnivore because it would likely ask for certain types of data communications to be centralized, he said.

“The goal might be to get companies that use packet data to have those packets go to one place for purposes of wiretap and other intercept capabilities,” Baker said. “It’s clear they [the Bureau] have decided that in the next year or so they are going to make a big push on packet data and they are going to use whatever leverage they can to get people to cooperate and to build a set of packet data systems that are more wiretap friendly than the ones we have today.”

The FBI spokesman overseeing Carnivore and other wiretapping issues didn’t immediately return calls seeking comments.

Whatever the new initiative ends up looking like, the Internet service provider community could be more likely to cooperate, shaken up by Sept. 11, said industry executives. But no one has heard of the FBI going beyond Carnivore at this point.

“The FBI are trying to get Carnivore with a lot more ISPs,” said Patrick Sweeney, president and chief executive of ServerVault, a Web hosting firm specializing in secure hosting.

Reportedly, the FBI is trying to use sections of Title 18, the wiretapping law, to extend its eavesdropping coverage to e-mail, Sweeney said. While he was not familiar with the initiative Baker described, Sweeney said Bureau’s interest in tracking data communications is not shocking, and might go beyond the FBI.

“There are so many agencies that are working on procedures where they can make sure than entire comprehensive wireless and wireline tapping can be put into place if need be,” he said.

Author: Max Smetannikov

News Service: Interactive Week


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: