ACLU Says Government Stacked Deck in Selection of Team to Review "Carnivore" Cyber-tapping System

October 4, 2000 12:00 am

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Wednesday, October 4, 2000

WASHINGTON–The American Civil Liberties Union today sharply criticized the Federal government’s selection of academic experts to review a sophisticated FBI Internet surveillance tool known as Carnivore, saying that many of them have ties to the federal law enforcement agencies and the White House.

“By selecting people with extensive government ties for what is supposedly an independent review, the Executive Branch has shown once again that it cannot be trusted with carte blanche authority to conduct searches,” said ACLU Associate Director Barry Steinhardt.

The review team chosen at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Research Institute includes a large number of White House insiders, including a former Clinton information policy advisor, and a former Justice Department official, the ACLU said. Other team members have backgrounds in the National Security Agency (NSA), the Department of Defense, and the Department of the Treasury.

“These moves reflect a ‘trust us, we are the Government’ approach that is the antithesis of the procedures required under our wiretapping laws,” Steinhardt said.

Steinhardt also criticized the scant provisions for the review, noting that Illinois team is expected to review thousands of pages of technical documents in six weeks on a paltry budget of $175,000.

Seeking to conduct its own review of the suspect system, in July the ACLU submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request asking the FBI to disclose the computer source code and other technical details about its new Internet wiretapping programs, including Carnivore. To date, the government has not turned over any of the requested documents to the ACLU.

The Carnivore system — essentially a computer running specialized software — is attached to an Internet Service Provider’s network and searches through all of its customers’ electronic messages (including e-mail, web addresses and instant messages) looking for the messages of a person suspected of a crime.

The biased expert panel is part of what was to be an independent process grudgingly agreed to by the Justice Department to determine whether Carnivore violates the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

After studying several documents posted on the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Web site, the ACLU discovered that nearly every member of the panel has strong connections to the U.S. government. For example, one panelist had been a high-level adviser to President Clinton’s transition team and was a White House staffer during the Ford Administration. Another researcher worked for the super-secretive National Security Agency in the 1980s, then went on to develop computerized search technology for the FBI. A third panelist had served for four years as a DOJ attorney. Several other experts had previously worked on projects for the Internal Revenue Service.

Steinhardt said that these developments strongly suggest that the purportedly “independent review” is little more than a dog-and-pony show and that there is still no effective oversight of how much the information the FBI is capturing.

The ACLU is urging Congress to remedy this situation by adopting legislation that would uphold the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unwarranted searches.

“Congress must send a clear message to the FBI,” Steinhardt said. “Under no circumstances must it be allowed to engage in such a mass invasion of the privacy of law-abiding Americans.”

The original (masked) DOJ report, including resumes (but not names) of review team, is available (in PDF Format) under

The list of “unmasked” and coded review team names, which the ACLU has linked to individuals, is at

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