What kinds of monitoring does the government do over the internet?

Written by louis kroeck Google
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What kinds of monitoring does the government do over the internet?
Different government agencies monitor different types of Internet activity. (the capitol hill building in Washington dc image by Gary from Fotolia.com)

The United States government monitors a great deal of Internet activity in order to attempt to ascertain who might be engaging in illegal or terrorist activity. Although the government is able to collect an astronomical amount of information, it is only able to process very limited amounts due to the breadth of Internet activity. Agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National Security Agency (NSA) routinely collect and monitor information about Internet activity for reasons related to national security. However, other government agencies also monitor different types of Internet activity for various reasons.

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E-mail Monitoring

The FBI and other government agencies have been monitoring e-mail communications for several years. One of the FBI's earlier e-mail monitoring programs, codenamed "Carnivore," used conventional packet-sniffing technologies to monitor e-mail communications on the server side of e-mail communications. Carnivore was designed to harvest only the information sought and to filter all other information passing through the system, but was criticised for several security flaws. It is likely that Carnivore is no longer used because the program was discontinued several years ago and the government is using commercial e-mail monitoring software, or being provided with requested information directly from Internet service providers.

What kinds of monitoring does the government do over the internet?
Carnivore was scrapped by the FBI sometime in the early 2000s. (carnivore image by Natalia Pavlova from Fotolia.com)

Traffic Monitoring

Various government agencies monitor different types of Internet traffic due to search warrants and national security needs. In 2008 president Bush expanded the monitoring capabilities of government agencies because of a variety of attacks on federal computer networks. Although the government claims that its expanded monitoring capabilities are related to national security, it is often difficult to determine exactly what types of traffic the government may be monitoring.

Additionally, in 2003 president Bush set up the Global Early Warning Information System, which supposedly monitors Internet traffic on a global level for information related to cyber terrorism and the overall stability of the Internet.

Internet Monitoring in Other Countries

Although some of the United State's government's monitoring policies may seem invasive, other countries, such as China, North Korea, and Australia, actually have much more invasive monitoring schemes, which go as far as to block access to certain websites they deem unacceptable. The Australian government claims that it only blocks websites related to child pornography and instructions on crime, but censorship is a risky process, which often results in the censorship of undesirable political speech.

Internet monitoring is necessary in some circumstances to prevent and detect cybercrime, unauthorised access to sensitive data, and terrorism. However, over bearing monitoring policies often result in censorship and the suppression of unpopular ideas.

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