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IOWA CITY, Iowa (U-WIRE)-- How would you feel if the government had the right to open everyone's mailbox and read the mail in order to catch criminals? Does this sound like a tactic that would be used by a totalitarian regime interested in monitoring and controlling the thoughts and actions of its populace?

Well, it is actually a tactic used by the FBI in the United States. Recently, the bureau unveiled a technology called Carnivore that allows it to monitor and read all electronic communications (e-mail, chat rooms, Web pages, etc.) that travel through an Internet Service Provider. This is a too powerful technology for the FBI to use unsupervised.

The technology of Carnivore supposedly allows the FBI to filter out all non-relevant information and "get to the meat" regarding criminal investigations, hence the name.

In order to find the "meat," however, Carnivore inspects all data traveling through an ISP. This is analogous to wiretapping an entire town but promising to listen only to the bad guys. It would be extremely easy and very tempting for the FBI to catalogue all suspicious or seditious communications passing through the system, not just messages sent to and from criminal suspects. Imagine complaining about the President to a friend and having your name automatically placed on a "possible threat" list.

Alternatively, imagine if the FBI decided to use this technology in order to gain blackmail information on "subversive" persons such as civil-rights leaders and outspoken activists. The FBI has a very poor history with respect to privacy violations, especially under Director J. Edgar Hoover.

Hoover is legendary for his blackmail files on left-wing organizations and their supporters. A technology such as Carnivore in the hands of someone such as Hoover would constitute a huge threat to the security and privacy of the populace of the United States.

In order to protect yourself from government spying, encrypt your communications with freeware such as Pretty Good Privacy (

Also, Congress must impose and enforce extremely strict regulations on the use of Carnivore, including possible examinations of Carnivore by outside parties to ensure that it does discard irrelevant information as the FBI claims. Although this technology could help in many criminal investigations, we must ensure that it is not used for government spying.

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