June 18, 2024

The FBI’s New Big Brother Plan

Privacy? Forget it now that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is at it again. CNET reports that the FBI is working overtime to ensure that Internet service providers (ISPs) will be forced to retain records of their customers’ use of the ‘Net for years after the fact and to make those records available to government agencies to use in criminal investigations.

In the last decade tens of millions of Americans have gotten online for entertainment, business, and even illegal purposes. Right behind them were the law enforcement officials of the FBI, CIA, and the rest of the other alphabet soup of the security apparatus.

Perhaps the highest-profile program the FBI implemented was called Carnivore, a massive Internet packet sniffer that could monitor the Internet traffic of crime suspects and ordinary, law-abiding citizens alike. The FBI defended the system, saying:

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.

As a software developer I can expertly state that, yes, the FBI could have been telling the truth. As an interested observer of the Bush administration’s tactics while running the War on Terror, I think it’s also safe to say that they were lying.

Now a new push is underway to make sure that more data than anyone dares imagine is kept on file, to be used against us.  While Greg Motta, the chief of the FBI’s digital evidence section, said that the bureau was not asking for the content data, such as the text of e-mail messages, be retained, there is no assurance whatsoever that the FBI would not retain its own records of such information and simply correlate that information with data provided by the ISPs.

Long-time readers will recall my assertions that telecom companies effectively had no choice but to turn over phone records to the government in the aftermath of 9/11. Private corporations are not equipped to stand up to the feds, nor should they be. Regardless of Mr. Motta’s assurances, this latest information warehousing scheme, which is supported wholeheartedly by state policing and other agencies in addition to the FBI, will lead to similar compromises of individual privacy.

Some celebrated when Carnivore was shut down, but that joy was misplaced. The custom sniffer program was disbanded in 2001, only to be replaced by a more effective commercial product, a change that demonstrates both the greater effectiveness of the private sector and the government’s determination to gather all available information about every one of us.


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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