Keeping a leash on Carnivore's "wiretap" on e-mails

Jul 18, 2000 02:00 AM

I can handle the FBI reading my e-mail -- with the right checks and balances in place. I said this a number of years ago and will repeat it: If reading my e-mail will keep home-made nerve gas out of the Lincoln tunnel or a 747 in the air, the FBI can read all it wants.
But the year 2000 edition of this statement gets a warning: If the Feds do something with my e-mail that harms me, they should get the same punishment hackers get. And I've seriously suggested life sentences for hackers. If Janet Reno will make this deal, I'm perfectly happy -- as long as the penalties for not keeping it are certain and severe.
I am bringing this up because of the furore over the FBI's desire to install a hardware/software package called Carnivore (where do they get these awful names?) at the nation's ISPs. The Feds say they won't use it without a court order. Some ISPs say they won't let Carnivore on the premises.

A compromise, it seems, would be to bring in Carnivore and for the ISPs to designate their own investigators actually to run the system and provide the FBI only the information covered by a court wiretap order.
The Feds could monitor the ISPs for abuse; the ISPs could keep the Feds in line. A joint industry/law-enforcement task force could solve the inevitable problems. What's the big deal? Folks, something must be done to prevent the Internet from being the fulfilment of every criminal's fantasy -- no witnesses. But we must also protect the innocent from intrusion into their lives and affairs.
So far, what I've seen in the news is the government trying -- clumsily -- to develop something the citizenry can live with while the industry, mostly represented by a shrill minority, just runs around screaming about its privacy rights. This supposed "right," like the "right" to own a Thompson submachine gun and keep it in the kids' room, is not as clearly delineated in the constitution as proponents of either position like to represent.
Still, I think I understand the privacy concerns of those who'd really prefer the entire Internet be 256-bit encrypted with no back doors. Just like I understand, I think, why Chuck Heston seems to have a handgun fetish.

Who makes the rules? But I also understand it only takes only a very few bad guys to ruin the fun for everyone. And if people won't behave responsibly, as self-defence we form governments to decide what the rules should be and how to enforce them. It's not a perfect system, as we all have experienced, but far better than whatever comes in second place.
Law enforcement too often doesn't live by the same rules the rest of us have to. Sometimes there is a good reason: I don't like the highway patrol swooping through traffic at 80 looking for speeders, but I have come to accept it. Sometimes cops are all too human and can't resist the ample temptation presented to them. Sometimes cops can't take the strain and become abusive. And most often, cops are just stupid in the same way we all are sometimes. Except the results can sometimes be fatal.
I don't think this makes me an apologist for fascist law enforcement, just a realist. I am all for putting bad cops in jail. But I also know that when the bad guys get new technology -- like the Internet -- the good guys, already at a big disadvantage, need it too.
We need to stop bitching and criticising the government for trying to protect us. We want the government to do this, last time I checked -- George W. Bush notwithstanding. Instead, we must find creative ways to use technology to jail the criminals and protect the innocent.
We need to develop a consensus that there are legitimate reasons for Internet "wiretaps" -- an agreement the libertarian engineers amongst us seem to have real troubles with. Then we need our best minds to work with the government to find a solution that accomplishes a very reasonable goal. And then we need to get on with life.
This is a technology problem. And if we can accomplish all we have, we ought to be able to do this, too.

Source: ZDNet News
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