FBI monitoring of email and electronic communications.Credit: Mozilla Foundation
The FBI implemented a system in the late 1990s known as Carnivore, which scanned emails en masse looking for keywords. It's since been replaced by even more sophisticated software.
"Carnivore uses a list of FBI-supplied keywords to sift through email (maybe everybody's email) to find suspicious references to call FBI attention to possibly nefarious conversations going on across the Internet," explained Joe B. Vaughan, Jr., author of "The Suburban Manifesto: How To Get City Hall To Do Exactly What You Want" (CreatePress, 2010).
"The FBI would use this program to track terrorists, drug traffickers, etc.," Vaughan said. "I had a conversation with an FBI agent about this. He said that this technology is necessary because of the impossible task of monitoring all of the email traffic occurring daily by federal authorities. Carnivore sifts email and when it finds matching keyword references, the FBI can zero in on the sender and receiver and monitor their email conversations more effectively."