Beware of carnivores

— 11:40 AM on July 11, 2000

OK, it looks like it's time to start encrypting everything, folks. ZDNet has a disturbing story about the FBI's new e-mail sniffing box, codenamed Carnivore. It was apparently unveiled to some industry types a couple of weeks ago, and looks to be pretty creepy on the Big Brother scale.

The problem is, while the box is supposed to be restricted to taking note of e-mails sent to or from a specific target, it has to be plugged into a local ISP's network. Of course, this gives it access to every packet that flies across that network, be it e-mail, web, online banking, etc. The FBI says it's great, because it can sift through millions of e-mails a second, but only pays attention to e-mails to and from the pre-programmed target. Privacy advocates aren't really sure they want to trust the FBI with access to every packet on an ISP's network.

One analyst quoted in the article says that the system is "the electronic equivalent of listening to everybody's phone calls to see if it's the phone call you should be monitoring," which is an interesting and fairly accurate analogy. Another quotation from the article: "FBI experts acknowledge that Carnivore's monitoring can be stymied with computer data such as e-mail that is scrambled using powerful encryption technology." I'm gonna go download PGP now...

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