Carnivore: Carnivore Diagnostic Tool

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Last Updated By Bill's Bible Basics :
February 16, 2017

The following information was obtained from the FBI's web site.

NOTE: Contrary to the false impression they try to create here, the FBI retains full control over Carnivore once it is implemented at an ISP. The ISP is pressured and forced into cooperating with the FBI, and then has absolutely no control over the device once it is in place. It is controlled only by the FBI.

The Nation's communications networks are routinely used in the commission of serious criminal activities, including espionage. Organized crime groups and drug trafficking organizations rely heavily upon telecommunications to plan and execute their criminal activities.

The ability of law enforcement agencies to conduct lawful electronic surveillance of the communications of its criminal subjects represents one of the most important capabilities for acquiring evidence to prevent serious criminal behavior. Unlike evidence that can be subject to being discredited or impeached through allegations of misunderstanding or bias, electronic surveillance evidence provides jurors an opportunity to determine factual issues based upon a defendant's own words.

Under Title III, applications for interception require the authorization of a high-level Department of Justice (DOJ) official before the local United States Attorneys offices can apply for such orders. Interception orders must be filed with federal district court judges or before other courts of competent jurisdiction. Hence, unlike typical search warrants, federal magistrates are not authorized to approve such applications and orders. Further, interception of communications is limited to certain specified federal felony offenses.

Applications for electronic surveillance must demonstrate probable cause and state with particularity and specificity: the offense(s) being committed, the telecommunications facility or place from which the subject's communications are to be intercepted, a description of the types of conversations to be intercepted, and the identities of the persons committing the offenses that are anticipated to be intercepted. Thus, criminal electronic surveillance laws focus on gathering hard evidence -- not intelligence.

Applications must indicate that other normal investigative techniques will not work or are too dangerous, and must include information concerning any prior electronic surveillance regarding the subject or facility in question. Court orders are limited to 30 days and interceptions must terminate sooner if the objectives are obtained. Judges may (and usually do) require periodic reports to the court (typically every 7-10 days) advising it of the progress of the interception effort. This circumstance thus assures close and ongoing oversight of the electronic surveillance by the United States Attorney's office handling the case. Extensions of the order (consistent with requirements of the initial application) are permitted, if justified, for up to a period of 30 days.

Electronic surveillance has been extremely effective in securing the conviction of more than 25,600 dangerous felons over the past 13 years. In many cases there is no substitute for electronic surveillance, as the evidence cannot be obtained through other traditional investigative techniques.

In recent years, the FBI has encountered an increasing number of criminal investigations in which the criminal subjects use the Internet to communicate with each other or to communicate with their victims. Because many Internet Service Providers (ISP) lacked the ability to discriminate communications to identify a particular subject's messages to the exclusion of all others, the FBI designed and developed a diagnostic tool, called Carnivore.

The Carnivore device provides the FBI with a "surgical" ability to intercept and collect the communications which are the subject of the lawful order while ignoring those communications which they are not authorized to intercept. This type of tool is necessary to meet the stringent requirements of the federal wiretapping statutes.

The Carnivore device works much like commercial "sniffers" and other network diagnostic tools used by ISPs every day, except that it provides the FBI with a unique ability to distinguish between communications which may be lawfully intercepted and those which may not. For example, if a court order provides for the lawful interception of one type of communication (e.g., e-mail), but excludes all other communications (e.g., online shopping) the Carnivore tool can be configured to intercept only those e-mails being transmitted either to or from the named subject.

Carnivore serves to limit the messages viewable by human eyes to those which are strictly included within the court order. ISP knowledge and assistance, as directed by court order, is required to install the device.

The use of the Carnivore system by the FBI is subject to intense oversight from internal FBI controls, the U. S. Department of Justice (both at a Headquarters level and at a U.S. Attorney's Office level), and by the Court. There are significant penalties for misuse of the tool, including exclusion of evidence, as well as criminal and civil penalties. The system is not susceptible to abuse because it requires expertise to install and operate, and such operations are conducted, as required in the court orders, with close cooperation with the ISPs.

The FBI is sharing information regarding Carnivore with industry at this time to assist them in their efforts to develop open standards for complying with wiretap requirements. The FBI did so two weeks ago, at the request of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) Implementation Section, at an industry standards meeting (the Joint Experts Meeting) which was set up in response to an FCC suggestion to develop standards for Internet interception.

This is a matter of employing new technology to lawfully obtain important information while providing enhanced privacy protection

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