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...
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... only methods of precaution available to network users if there is someone sniffing packets.
Carnivore poses certain concerns to any network user concerned about their security. Unfortunately many of the issues are in the hands of the FBI and not the common civilian population of the United States, because it does not seem as though Carnivore will be forced to change. As a result, the only safeguard available to most people is encryption of any important information that is transmitted over a network. Public awareness of the issues involved, and the voicing of the concerns could prompt legislation to ensure that personal privacy is observed and respected by the FBI. In the meantime, the FBI will have to be trusted to handle the power provided by Carnivore in an ethical manner, doing everything they can to respect the privacy of the common citizen.
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