FEATURES & COMMENTARY
Washington, D.C. — D. Ian Hopper reports that the FBI’s controversial e-mail surveillance tool works the way the bureau described and generally doesn’t “overcollect” evidence as feared by privacy advocates, the Chicago law-school dean who reviewed the system said.
On the eve of the Justice Department’s release of his review findings, Henry Perritt Jr., dean of the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Kent College of Law, said the report contains recommended improvements to the Carnivore system – both for efficiency and privacy – that likely won’t be made public today
“I think that it’s fair to say that it does pretty much what the FBI says it did. For the most part, it does not overcollect. There’s certain recommendations as to how it could be improved,” he said.
Perritt declined to list the recommendations or to detail how Carnivore did overcollect. Privacy advocates were alarmed by an FBI lab report last week stating that Carnivore “could reliably capture and archive all unfiltered traffic to the internal hard drive.” The FBI said the lab report was the result of a test to determine Carnivore’s “breaking point,” and that laws and court orders restricted Carnivore from being used so broadly. Privacy advocates, however, said the test shows that Carnivore is more powerful than the FBI has stated. Perritt said the FBI was “completely open and cooperative” during the review.
Carnivore was designed by the FBI to collect e-mail going to or from a suspect, in cases where a suspect may be using electronic communications. Privacy experts have worried about the breadth of Carnivore’s capability and its “black box” nature.
Shortly after the Illinois Institute of Technology was chosen to perform the review, ordered by Attorney General Janet Reno, critics said the review would not be independent because the reviewers were government insiders.
“This important issue deserves a truly independent review, not a whitewash,” House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, a longtime Carnivore opponent, said in October.
Perritt advised President Clinton’s transition team on information policy and worked both for the Clinton administration and for previous Republican administrations.
Associate Dean Harold J. Krent, another team member, worked at the Justice Department in the 1980s, and several team members have current or former security clearances from the Defense Department, Treasury Department or the National Security Agency.
Perritt repeatedly affirmed that he was completely independent, and that his reputation would be damaged if he was anything but impartial. Most of the nation’s elite academic computer departments – including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Purdue University and the San Diego Supercomputer Center – either declined to review Carnivore or withdrew their applications after objecting to the requirements the Justice Department placed on the review.