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Wednesday, August 2, 2000
WASHINGTON, DC -- The Electronic Privacy Information Center
(EPIC) today asked a federal judge to order the immediate public
disclosure of information concerning the Federal Bureau of
Investigation's controversial "Carnivore" surveillance system.
In an application submitted to U.S. District Judge James
Robertson, EPIC charges that the Department of Justice and the
FBI have violated the law by failing to act on a request to
expedite the processing of a Freedom of Information Act request
EPIC submitted to the FBI on July 12.
The Carnivore system monitors traffic at the facilities of
Internet service providers (ISPs) in order to intercept
information contained in the electronic mail of criminal
suspects. Carnivore can reportedly scan millions of e-mails each
second and is capable of providing law enforcement agents the
ability to intercept all of an ISP's customers' digital
communications. Serious questions have been raised in Congress,
in the media and in the privacy community concerning the
legality of Carnivore and its potential for abuse.
In response to the public uproar over Carnivore, Attorney
General Janet Reno announced on July 27 that the technical
specifications of the system would be disclosed to a "group of
experts" to allay public concerns. But according to EPIC
General Counsel David L. Sobel, "There is no substitute for a
full and open public review of the Carnivore system. The only
way that the privacy questions can be resolved is for the FBI to
release all relevant information, both legal and technical."
EPIC's FOIA request, which is the subject of today's legal
action, seeks the disclosure of "all records" concerning
Carnivore, including the underlying software and legal analyses
addressing the limitations, if any, that have been placed on the
use of the system. A similar request for access to Carnivore
material was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
In a detailed submission to the Justice Department shortly after
it transmitted its request to the FBI, EPIC asserted that its
Carnivore request concerns "a matter of widespread and
exceptional media interest in which there exist possible
questions about the government's integrity which affect public
confidence" -- one of the legal standards that qualifies a
request for "expedited processing." Despite a ten-day time
limit to answer requests for accelerated processing, the
Department failed to respond to EPIC's request. Sobel said, "If
there was ever a request that qualified for expedited treatment,
this is it. It's hard to believe that the Justice Department is
unable to recognize the high level of public concern that
Carnivore has generated. The FBI should be working overtime to
make public as much information as possible."
A court hearing on EPIC's request for emergency injunctive
relief is likely to be held within the next few days. EPIC is a
frequent FOIA requester and litigant, and previously sought the
disclosure of information from the FBI on the Communications
Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) and from the National
Security Agency on the Clipper Chip and U.S. encryption policy,
among other subjects.
The legal memorandum in support of EPIC's motion for a temporary
restraining order is available at:
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