Hackers aren't the only ones who at times invade people's Internet privacy. So does the federal government and many corporations. The FBI and National Security Agency (NSA) invade some people's privacy by wiretapping their Internet connections, and corporations may snoop on their employees' Internet use to make sure they don't do anything illegal or harassing to others.
Particularly controversial has been President George W. Bush's decision to let the super-secret National Security Agency (NSA) tap phone calls and Internet use of American citizens without first getting a warrant. There is a well-defined legal procedure for such taps, with secret courts that allow them, and presidents for years have used them. But President Bush's decision to bypass the courts has been extremely controversial, and as this book goes to press, Congress had planned to hold hearings on the matter.
Two other controversial programs for gathering personal communications have been the Carnivore program run by the FBI, and the Echelon program run by the NSA. The Carnivore program was used to wiretap people's Internet connections. It has been discontinued, but the FBI continues to use similar technology.
Carnivore was the Internet equivalent of a wiretapit allowed FBI agents to examine everything that a suspect does on the Internet, from sending and reading email, to browsing the Web, sending and receiving files via FTP, and, in fact, anything else someone does. It literally allows agents to examine and keep copies of every bit of information sent to and from an individual.
Just as a special warrant is required for a law enforcement agency to obtain a wiretap, a special warrant was required for the FBI to obtain a Carnivore tap.
With Carnivore, the FBI placed a computer at the Internet service provider (ISP) of the target of the investigation. It then tapped in to the line of the ISP and examined all the ISP's Internet traffic, using filters and software to get copies of the target's traffic and discarding the rest. Depending on the warrant, the FBI might target only portions of the target's Internet usagefor example, email but not FTP.
Civil libertarians and those concerned with privacy issues criticized Carnivore. They worried that it could easily be abused, and they argued that the simple fact of tapping into someone's Internet usage is an invasion of privacy.
The existence of Carnivore was acknowledged by the FBI, but the NSA doesn't acknowledge the existence of its Echelon data-gathering operation, which is the largest data gathering operation in the world. It literally listens in on the world's communications and stores information it believes is relevant. We don't know exactly how the program operates, because that is classified, but based on public records, we illustrate its basic outlines.
In the workplace, a variety of snooping tools can be used, ranging from those that log every packet that comes into and out of the network, to those that watch people's actual keystrokes. In addition, most emails are traceable, even if companies are not monitoring their emails. Microsoft Exchange servers, for example, have message-tracking abilities and retention settings that can track email even if it's been deleted. One reason for corporate snooping is to make sure people aren't making unauthorized use of the Internet. Another is to ensure the Internet is not being used in a harassing manner. For example, courts have ruled if an employee displays a pornographic website on his computer, it could be considered sexual harassment. No matter the reasons, however, many employees are made uncomfortable by such snooping and should realize that everything they do at work may be tracked by their employer.