WASHINGTON, D.C. - Judges will oversee how authorities use a device that snoops on e-mail communications, after House of Representatives Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, inserted new language into an antiterrorism bill that President George W. Bush signed today.
The device, called Carnivore, is used occasionally by the FBI to harvest e-mail communications. Civil liberties advocates have long denounced Carnivore, arguing that without controls over how it is used, the FBI would have the ability to conduct vast surveillance sweeps of e-mail traffic, gathering information from criminal suspects as well as innocent e-mail users.
Armey is a vocal opponent of Carnivore, and the inclusion of the clause in the bill marks a victory for him and civil liberties advocates.
The clause would force authorities to reveal to a judge all details about a Carnivore installation, including the identities of the installer and those who have access to the device, its configuration and precise details about what it will collect.
The House of Representatives passed the bill on Wednesday.
The clause is one of the few pieces of the bill that civil liberties advocates applaud. In general, they said they believe that the bill gives authorities far too many new surveillance powers in the name of antiterrorism, at the expense of citizens right to privacy.
Many of the bills provisions are scheduled to expire at the end of 2005, unless Congress opts to keep them alive. The Carnivore clause, however, is permanent.