Surveillance on the Internet

This was my Senior Research Paper written on March 16, 2001 while I was in 12th grade at Winchester Thurston School. My advisor was Maurice Bajcz.

Carlos Macasaet
Dr. Naragon and Mr. Bajcz
Senior Research Paper
16 March 2001

Surveillance on the Internet

The Internet has presented citizens around the world with a new medium with which to communicate. The Internet also referred to as cyberspace has truly developed into a new kind of space. In this space, everyone can have a voice. Unlike real space, in cyberspace, it is very easy to reach a large audience without having to seek out the services of a publishing agency. The Internet has also revolutionized peer-to-peer communication. E-mail and instant messaging has provided a faster, more efficient and often more convenient form of peer-to-peer communication. However, along with new methods of communication, has emerged a new medium for criminals. Criminals have found it easier and often safer to communicate via e-mail as opposed to the telephone as this avoids the possibility of wiretaps. Such instances of criminal use of the Internet include instances of espionage, and drug trafficking. The Internet has also led to the creation of a new kind of crime — cyber crime.

As the Internet is an international medium that cannot be owned by any one country, it cannot be regulated by any government. However, as crimes committed on the Internet, have ramifications in real space, it is necessary that governments of affected nations take safeguards to prevent crimes committed with the Internet as they would other crimes committed in the real space within their borders. In order to respond to crimes committed using the Internet, governments have revised their laws regarding the prosecution of various online activities. However, more methods are required to prevent Internet crimes. This includes ways for law enforcement agencies to track down criminals and ways for them to detect crimes before they happen.

Governments are instituting laws dictating exactly what law enforcement agencies may do in order to track and monitor crimes committed using the Internet. However, due to the nature of the Internet, it is very difficult to monitor the actions of one Internet user without also monitoring the actions of many other users. Information travels across the Internet in the form of many packets and it is nearly impossible to distinguish the packets containing the data from a suspect from the many other packets. In addition, the Internet makes it very easy to hide one’s identity thus making the task of distinguishing the suspect packets from the normal ones exponentially more difficult.

Nevertheless, law enforcement agencies around the world are devising ways of tracking crime on the Internet. As this cannot be done without monitoring the actions of many users, citizens are concerned that the privacy of the other innocent users whose actions will also be monitored. They see this as a breach of personal privacy that is beginning to resemble something out of 1984 by George Orwell.

This has recently become an issue in the United States. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) feels that the anonymity and global nature of the Internet poses serious problems. A recent report by the White House claims that the ease with which one can hide on the Internet justifies measures that would give law enforcement officers a wider range of powers in pursuing criminals on the Internet. According to Attorney General Janet Reno it is imperative that law enforcement agencies be able to ascertain the source of malicious hacker attacks or anonymous e-mails that contain bomb threats. As a result, former President Clinton chartered the Working Group on Unlawful Conduct on the Internet in August of 1999 to develop ways to combat Internet criminals through the revision of laws or the creation of education programs to teach law enforcement officials how to deal with Internet crime. A report produced by the group stated that the need for real time tracing of Internet communications across traditional jurisdictional boundaries, both domestically and internationally [and] the need to track down sophisticated users who commit unlawful acts on the Internet while hiding their identities are crucial. It believes that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should be encouraged, though not required to keep comprehensive records of what their users, or clients, do online. (U.S. Wants to Trace Net Users)

To address the problem of tracking Internet crime, the FBI has created the Carnivore Diagnostic Tool. Carnivore is a system used for monitoring suspect data transmitted over the Internet. It consists of a computer running Microsoft’s Windows NT that captures packets traveling through an ISP’s network. Although according to Donald M. Kerr, the director of the FBI’s laboratory division, Carnivore only searches the sender and recipient lines of e-mail traffic, there is really nothing to stop the system from reading other parts of e-mail traffic or monitoring other types of packets for that matter. (Probing Carnivore)

Many, however, wonder why Carnivore is needed in the first place if it only needs to perform the tasks described by Kerr. According to Peter Sachs, the president of ICONN, a New Haven, Connecticut-based ISP, any ISP can do this, in as little as two lines of programming code. He says that any ISP can supply the FBI with the information it is looking for in a more accurate, more efficient and more private manner, because we [the ISP] have absolutely no need to look at anybody’s information, except for the actual target. According to Mark Rasch, a former prosecutor for Internet crimes and currently an employee of Global Integrity, a security firm, Carnivore is pushing the law enforcement’s ability to gather information beyond traditional wiretapping. (Probing Carnivore)

Naturally, many see this as a potential risk to privacy. The FBI realizes this. Federal agent Paul George stated, If there’s going to be a Big Brother in the United States, it’s going to be us. It’s going to be the FBI. However, George assures that the FBI will not be able to abuse its powers there are stringent laws limiting what it may do. (Computers, Freedom and Privacy)

The main concern expressed by people is that because the public does not know exactly how Carnivore works, it would be easy for law enforcement officials to exploit the technology to spy on people. In order to put the people at ease, the FBI has agreed to have Carnivore reviewed by an independent group to verify that Carnivore functioned as intended without any back doors that would allow the FBI to perform other illegal surveillance operations.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) hired a review team from the IIT Research Institute, an affiliate of the Illinois Institute of Technology. After examining the system, the review team wrote a favorable review for Carnivore. They claimed that it did exactly what it claimed to do: track specific digital communications under a court order. Five researchers from such organizations as AT&T Bell Labs and the University of Pennsylvania joined to study the results of the review. According to them, however, the limited analysis of Carnivore is not enough to conclude that Carnivore is safe or consistent with legal limitations. They claimed that the IITRI did not spend enough time scrutinizing the operational and systems issues. It is simply not possible to draw meaningful conclusions about isolated pieces of software without also considering the computer, networking and user environment under which they are running.

To make matters worse for the FBI and the Justice Department, after the review team had submitted their report, the DOJ posted it on the Internet. The entire original 51-page report was posted as an Adobe Acrobat PDF file, but to protect the privacy of the reviewers, project information such as names, phone numbers and government security clearances were covered with black bars in the file. However, due to the nature of the file and the way in which the black bars were made, it turned out to be very easy for anyone with text editor software on their computer to remove the black bars and reveal the entire contents of the file. The new unaltered version was then released on the Internet. Upon performing research on the review team, it was discovered that the members of the review team have a very close relationship with the federal government. (Carnivore Team Exposed!) One of the members, Henry Perritt Jr., the head of the Chicago-Kent College of Law had advised the Clinton transition team on information policy in 1992 as well as helped the Clinton administration in other cases. Other members of the team currently hold or at one time held security clearances from the Defense Department, Treasury Department of the National Security Agency. One of the members had worked at the DOJ in the 1980′s. (FBI’s Carnivore Does Not Invade Privacy, Review Finds)

Before the DOJ had had the IITRI review the FBI’s Carnivore, they had appealed to several prominent universities. However, the universities declined the offer to test Carnivore’s integrity. Computer security experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Michigan, University of California San Diego and University of California Berkeley all declined to test the system. They claimed that the department would have had too much control over the review process. Experts claim that the DOJ was more interested in improving Carnivore’s public image than getting an unbiased analysis. According to Jeffrey I. Schiller, a network manager at MIT, the DOJ would have had veto power over the members of the review team, which would severely limit the scope of study, as researchers would not be able to freely discuss their findings. He believed that they [just] want to borrow a university’s reputation in order to put the critics minds at ease. Of course, the FBI rationalizes their necessity for secrecy; it is important to make sure that criminals do not discover a way to bypass Carnivore by knowing how it works. However, Tomorrow Perrine, the manager of security technologies at the San Diego Supercomputer Center a research unit of the University of California, argues, With a secret process, there’s a potential for abuse. We want to know what legal safeguards there are. But we can’t even ask. (Foster)

Despite the FBI’s attempts to assure the public that Carnivore can only be used for legitimate purposes, many believe that the only way to assure the legitimacy of Carnivore is to release its source code the blueprint of how it works for public scrutiny. While this may seem to make Carnivore more vulnerable, it only has the potential to make it more secure. People examining the software will be quick to point out all of its weaknesses. In addition, if the software is well made, even if its source code is available to the public, malicious hackers still will not be able to circumvent it. This method has worked well for Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) developed by Phil Zimmerman. This encryption program is considered one of the best personal encryption programs around. By releasing the source code, people using the product were assured that there was no back door through which the creators would be able to decrypt their data. In addition, knowledge of how PGP encrypts data does not make circumventing the encryption any easier. The same is true for other open source systems in which security is essential such as the operating systems Linux and FreeBSD (considered one of the most secure operating systems).

The United Kingdom has also taken measures to prevent Internet crime. In July of 2000, both houses of Parliament passed the Regulation of Investigative Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). Parts I and IV of the act became law Monday October 2, 2000. (Legal E-Snooping May Violate UK Human Rights) The act was originally proposed by law enforcement official eager to monitor the Internet for criminal activity. As a result, it resembles a wish list for spies. (Heath)

According to RIPA, officials are able to track, without warrant, e-mail addresses used by individuals as well as their correspondence. For this to be accomplished, all ISPs will be required to allow the government to install black boxes that route all data packets to British Intelligence. This is similar to the Carnivore system except the black box is a separate component that connects a central computer to an ISP router. RIPA gives the United Kingdom more power than any other western government to monitor activities on the Internet. (Heath) Caspar Bowden of the Foundation for Information Policy Research states that with the facilities called for under RIPA, the government can track every web site that a person visits, without warrant giving rise to a culture of suspicion by association. The greatest fear in the minds of people is that the government will abuse their new power to spy on innocent citizens eventually resulting in an Orwellian society. Norman Baker, a liberal democrat Member of Parliament states The arrival of this spy center means that Big Brother is finally here. The balance between the state and individual privacy has swung too far in favor of the state. However, the representative for the Home Office, the internal affairs department, Peter Hillman, assures that the new laws will only be used for combating crime. He states “There will be no mass snooping; interception now and in the future may only be performed under a warrant authorized personally by the Secretary of State and in every case the full range of safeguards applies, with recourse to independent oversight. The use of interception will be strictly targeted on criminal activities.” (UK plan to open Internet spy center draws criticism)

While RIPA gives the government agencies many new spying powers for fighting crime, it lacks any safeguards for protecting individuals and corporations. (Heath) The Trade Union Congress, which represents several unions in the United Kingdom, also believes that a prior notification rule should be inserted into the act. (Legal E-Snooping May Violate UK Human Rights)

Opposition to RIPA has come from all corners of society including trade unions, corporations and advocacy groups such as Amnesty International. The Financial Times, the Times and the Guardian have all called for RIPA to be abandoned. According to The Independent, RIPA will stifle the development of e-business, e-government or e-anything in the UK. Nokia and WorldCom’s UUNet have already voiced their opposition to RIPA. In addition, many of the most prominent British ISPs such as Poptel, Claranet and GreenNet are considering relocating to France or Ireland in order to protect their users’ confidentiality. The implementation of RIPA would also cost the approximately 400 British ISPs about 30 million during the first year. International banking corporation Goldman Sachs has moved the digital keys that unlock its corporate codes to Zurich where the British government will not have access to them. (Heath)

Trade unions, including the Trade Union Congress (TUC), are also concerned that RIPA is in conflict with the new Human Rights Act, which was established by the European Union and integrated into UK law. According to this act, British citizens may go directly to UK courts to ensure that their basic human rights are being met. Before this, citizens were required to take any complaints to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg; this was a longer process. Article eight of the Human Rights Act states that everyone has the right for his private and family life, his home and correspondence. However, according to a Home Office Spokesman, the bulk of the act came into effect at the same time as the Human Rights Act, in part because we were making sure RIPA was completely compliant with the Human Rights Act. However, the most controversial parts of the act, parts II and III, do not come into effect until later in 2001. Part II includes the “ISP Provision” requiring ISPs in the UK to install the aforementioned black boxes that will track all data passing through their systems and route them to the Government Technical Assistance Centre (GTAC). GTAC is currently being established in the London headquarters of the UK security service, MI5. Part III includes the provision that the Home Office be able to demand the encryption keys to all data communications. (Legal E-Snooping May Violate UK Human Rights)

One problem of concern to civil rights activists is that RIPA’s definitions are frighteningly general. For example, the bill defines a “serious crime to be “conduct by a large number of persons in pursuit of a common purpose”. This could be construed as anything from a prayer meeting to a football game. (Heath)

Despite the United Kingdom’s long standing position as a starting point for American companies wishing to expand into Europe, RIPA could make it a much more forbidding place to do business. According to Heath, The United Kingdom and other governments that are implementing similar practices need to rationalize the various regulations that govern how authorities are allowed to read citizens’ e-mail in addition to how they may tap phones and monitor other electronic communications. With the seemingly nightmarish powers the British law enforcement agencies will have over its citizens, RIPA comes at an otherwise promising time for business on the Internet. The Economy is thriving and youth culture is contributing to the Internet scene. (Heath)

Recently, the issue of Internet crime has sparked concern in Germany’s government and subsequently among the citizens. In November of 2000, Germany’s Conference of Interior Ministers proposed requiring all German ISPs to track and store their customers Internet use similar to the regulation outlined in the United Kingdom’s Regulation of Investigative Powers Act. On November 24, 2000, the ministers consulted authorities around the world for help in developing “international minimum penal standards” for combating crime in cyberspace. They feel that it is urgently necessary to store all of the “digital footprints” left behind by all Internet users in order to track Internet crime. German officials responsible for protecting personal data freedom warn that this may threaten the privacy of all Internet users if the proposal is approved. Werner Kessel, the commissioner for data protection in the state of Mecklenburg lower Pomerania compared this to a draconian system in which the government tracked all of the correspondence of its citizens in an Orwellian manner. On December 6, 2000, he stated, “It’s as if the interior ministers had demanded that all the data about postal traffic senders, addressees, postmarks, etc. must be stored.” Although fighting cyber crime is important, Kessel believes that this is an unnecessary action. “There’s a danger of creating transparent Internet users. There already exist laws allowing police to go onto the Internet and pursue crimes, and that’s how it should be, but the demand to store all the electronic traces of users, we hold as unnecessary and disproportionate.” (Perera)

Also similar to the British Regulation of Investigative Powers Act, in New Zealand, Police and government espionage agencies are pushing for greater surveillance powers including the ability to intercept Internet e-mails. This new legislation would be manifested as the new Telecommunications Act. The impetus for this comes primarily from the example of the United States FBI’s push for a standardized system of intercepting mobile phone conversations and e-mail messages. (Sweeping Powers for Spy Agencies)

The first half of the legislation would allow the Government Communications Security Bureau to intercept all forms of electronic communication and would allow the Security Intelligence Service to hack into computer systems to view and copy people’s files. This was achieved by amending the Crimes Act to make hacking into computers and intercepting e-mail illegal and then subsequently exempting law enforcement and intelligence agencies from the new law. (Sweeping Powers for Spy Agencies) This would allow authorities to read personal e-mails even before the recipient has. (Hacking Law Will Threaten Privacy Commissioner)

The other half of the legislation would require telephone companies to make their systems “interceptable” by law enforcement and intelligence agencies thus giving them the authorization to “snoop” on citizens’ faxes, telephone calls and cellular text messages. (Hacking Law Will Threaten Privacy Commissioner) It would also require ISPs to install systems that would aid the agencies in spying on the ISPs’ users. This is similar to the ISP “black box” called for in the British RIPA. (Sweeping Powers for Spy Agencies)

The primary advocate and promoter for these changes in New Zealand is Associate Justice Minister Paul Swain. (Sweeping Powers for Spy Agencies) Law enforcement authorities are concerned that criminals are using Internet e-mail to circumvent telephone wiretaps. (Dearnaley) According to Swain, the driving force of the new law changes is to protect privacy, as there exists no legislation exclaiming, Wandering into someone’s internal communications system is illegal. Exemptions for the government were made later. (Sweeping Powers for Spy Agencies)

Many who are concerned about privacy and civil liberties, however, are criticizing the new legislation. According to Council for Civil Liberties chair Tony Ellis; the proposed laws are a major concern for civil liberties. (Sweeping Powers for Spy Agencies) According to Aziz Choudry, a spokesman for the anti-free trade Gatt Watchdog, the new policies would give the government carte blanche to actively monitor (read spy on) many community groups, political organizations, trade unions and individuals of interest. According to Choudry, the police have already exceeded their powers as evidenced by the High Court’s award of $20,000 NZD to Christchurch University lecturer Dr. David Small because of an illegal police search. Small’s home was searched solely because he was an activist, in what he regards as social justice causes without reasonable grounds for suspecting a crime. (Dearnaley) According to Hager, author of a 1996 book on Echelon, the way that the changes were being introduced in small parts and secretly was “a model of bad government”.

Privacy Commissioner Bruce Slane attacks the proposed laws for their potential to give the authorities unmatched potential to “snoop” on people’s lives. Slane believes that this will do more harm than good to public privacy as police could abuse their newfound power. In addition, improperly executed hacking attempts could result in enormous expenses for which the government would be liable. Slane insists on stricter controls on how authorities use their powers. (Hacking Law Will Threaten Privacy Commissioner)

In response to the opposition received by the new law, Associate Justice Minister Paul Sway, who has been overseeing the changes, claims that investigators wishing to take advantage of the new law would be required to inform subjects of covert operations after the actions have been carried out in compliance with current overseas practices. In addition, in keeping with current practices, agencies would also need to apply to a High Court judge to obtain a warrant for such covert operations. (Hacking Law Will Threaten Privacy Commissioner)

Probably the most Draconian of changes to Internet laws and surveillance practices has been introduced in Russia. In January of 2000, Acting President Vladimir Putin supported the new SORM-2, “System for Operational-Investigative Activities”, and the successor to SORM-1. Under SORM-1, ISPs were required to give any information about its users’ actions on the Internet to the Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti (FSB) or Federal Security Bureau provided they produced a warrant. However, under SORM-2, the ISPs are required to install a box similar to the Carnivore system as well as high bandwidth connections between the box and the FSB headquarters. (Surveillance of Commuications)

While a warrant is still needed for the FSB to read any of the intercepted data, human rights groups are concerned that this law may be bypassed. SORM-2 is similar to the UK RIPA, except that all of the government agencies will have access to the information intercepted by the system. In addition, RIPA mandated that only data traveling to or from a suspect person or group be monitored. Under SORM-2, all communications are to be monitored. (Surveillance of Commuications)

In all of the countries discussed, law enforcement agencies proposed policy amendments that would give them more power in combating online crime as well as systems that would aid them in this. In all cases, this involved the active interception of information that would essentially allow the agencies to view everything that Internet users did online. In all cases, this was a point of contention as many see it as an invasion of privacy.

Many fear an Orwellian society in which the government monitors all of the actions of its citizens in order to keep them in line. As computers become ubiquitous, the Internet will somehow be involved in our everyday lives. For example, a new Internet protocol, IPv6, is currently being considered to replace the current Internet protocol, IPv4. This is because IPv4 was not designed to accommodate the number computers connected to the Internet. As technology progresses, computer will be found in everything including kitchen appliances. Eventually, these appliances will be made to connect to the Internet. IPv6 is designed such that when the time comes that humans inhabit Mars, our toasters will be able to have their own niche in the Internet. If our toasters connect to the Internet and our government monitors the Internet, then our government will be able to tell whether we prefer white bread or wheat bread and whether or not we eat the ends of our bread loaves.

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