July 21, 2000

Your privacy is being threatened again by devices you probably have never heard about. First it was Echelon, a global eavesdropping system the U.S. and England have been using to spy on satellite-transmitted phone calls, e-mails, and fax messages. Now itís Carnivore, the FBIís newest electronic snooping device that can read your e-mail right off your mail server.

This automated system to wiretap the Internet is called Carnivore because it rapidly finds the "meat" in vast amounts of data. The programmers devised a "packet sniffer" system that can analyze packets of data flowing through computer networks to determine whether it is part of an e-mail message or some other piece of Web traffic.

The FBI has been quietly monitoring e-mail for about a year. Earlier this month, the bureau went public with their operation to what the Wall Street Journal called "a roomful of astonished industry specialists." Although the device has been used in less than 100 cases, there is every reason to believe that it will be expanded. A judge can issue a court order to tap your e-mail just as they tap your phones.

In this electronic age, new devices threaten our privacy. And in this current political climate, administration officials seem to have little concern about threats to our Fourth Amendment rights. Electronic eavesdropping is certain to increase as we head into the 21st century.

Carnivore is nothing more than standard computer with special software. So it is likely that Carnivore will soon become a hungry beast, ready to devour personal and confidential information in peopleís e-mail messages. Thatís another good reason why each of us should be careful about what we put in e-mails, and itís also why we need to pay constant attention to the loss of privacy in the computer age.

Iím Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and thatís my opinion.