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Group Sues For Info On Electronic Surveillance Tools

K.C. Jones, TechWeb | October 12 2006

A privacy group is suing the U.S. Department of Justice to get information about an FBI surveillance system designed to monitor communications delivered by emerging digital technologies.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to obtain records related to DCS-3000 and Red Hook, tools designed to intercept electronic communications.

"Recent allegations of domestic spying by the U.S. government already have both lawmakers and the general public up in arms. Americans have a right to know whether the FBI is using new technology to further violate their privacy," EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann said through a prepared statement. "The Department of Justice needs to abide by the law and publicly release information about these surveillance tools."

EFF said the system evolved out of Carnivore, a surveillance system the FBI once used to monitor Internet traffic. The group cited a DOJ report describing Red Hook's ability to "collect voice and data calls and then process and display the intercepted information."

The lawsuit is part of EFF's FLAG project, which aims to reveal the government's use of technologies that infringe on personal privacy. It claims the FBI acknowledged receiving a request for documents related to the systems on August 11, but has not responded as required by federal laws protecting citizen's rights to be informed of government activity.

"Transparency is critical to the functioning of our democracy, especially when the government seeks to hide activities that affect the rights of citizens," EFF Senior Counsel David Sobel, said through a prepared statement. "We have recently seen numerous instances where federal agencies have sought to conceal surveillance activities that raise serious legal issues."

Attempts to reach the FBI's public information officer, Gloria Ralph-McKissic, were unsuccessful because her mailbox was full. Attempts to reach the agency's public liason and press office were also unsuccessful. A spokesman for the DOJ press office said the agency was busy preparing for a "major press conference on a terrorism related matter" and would not be available to answer questions Thursday afternoon.

Authorities have defended surveillance activities, saying they are legal and necessary to fight terrorism and preserve national security.


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