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Big Brother is eating your e-mail

August 10, 2000

Big Brother is eating your e-mail



I'm sure you won't mind, but from now on, I'm charging you $5 for every typo that appears in this column, $10 for every wrong inference and $15 for every factual error.

I got the idea from the computer industry, and since I like to be "cutting edge," I want to board this train before it leaves the station.

It's a great concept, when you think about it. For example, last week I couldn't access the Internet because, according to a message that popped up on my screen, Netscape failed to find a "socket connection," whatever that means.

The next day, using my computer at work, I contacted the troubleshooting division at Netscape and learned that it would happily help me out - for a fee of $29 "per incident."

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Is that a great deal, or what? They get paid for messing up.

The incentive, it would seem, is to operate as poorly as possible, then sit back and rake in the loot. I suppose since they don't charge for the browser in the first place, I shouldn't complain, but that just wouldn't be me.

Rather than pay, I did an end run by installing another copy of Netscape and that made things satisfactory again.

Satisfactory, that is, until I came into work Monday morning and found a disturbing fax from the Libertarian Party about "Carnivore," an FBI program that lets the government potentially spy on every e-mail you send.

"Carnivore is a hardware/software device secretly developed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation," the release says. "Over the past few months the FBI has been quietly installing it at Internet Service Providers' offices around the USA."

The system is called Carnivore because it has the ability to sniff out "the meat" from the millions on millions of e-mails sent every day.

According to the Libertarians, "The FBI says the device is designed to spy on suspected hackers, terrorists and drug dealers, but admits that Carnivore scans every message from every person on an ISP. In other words, the device will scan millions of e-mail messages from innocent people to try to find a tiny number of messages from people suspected of crimes."

First off, I would remind the Libertarians that there are no innocent people. Only varying degrees of criminals. That's one thing on which the Bible and I agree. So if the feds want to convict you of something, they will find a way.

That's why we petty criminals should be just as nervous as the severe ones.

Second, the Libertarians offer a solution, but it's a silly one: Contact your congressmen. Libertarians of all people ought to know that unless you are a big campaign contributor, elected office holders are the last people you contact if you want action.

But if your local congressman can't help you, who can? That's right, your local columnist.

Here's what we do. They say Carnivore works because it flags telltale words and names in an e-mail message that suggest criminal activity, then pulls these messages for closer inspection by the agents.

But what if EVERY e-mail message contained inflammatory words and names? Carnivore would flag every message and there would be no possible way agents could review them all.

So I want you to cut-and-paste the following sentence and stick it at the end of every e-mail you send:

"P.S. - Carlos the Jackal and I marijuana prostitution recently pipe bombed Jon Benet Ramsey heroin biological warfare naughty nightgowns with a U-Haul truck full of fertilizer yard sales Communist, while O.J. Simpson and his right wing militia crossed state lines with their AK-47s and HK-97s pornography and 'Fat Tony' Salerno studied bootlegged smut videos of racketeering, extortion, going 50 in a 35 zone as I was evading my taxes phony sports hero autographs with Saddam Hussein."

That ought to get their attention. And it won't even cost you $29 for the tip.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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