FBI abandons Carnivore in favor of commercial software

Von Linda Rosencrance

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has dropped its Internet surveillance system, known as Carnivore, in favor of commercially available software, according to documents obtained by the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) under the Freedom of Information Act. FBI officials could not be reached for comment today.

Carnivore, announced in 2000 and officially called the Digital Collection System 1000, works by capturing data packets that pass through the systems of an Internet service provider. This is done by installing a box with Carnivore on the service provider"s network.

The FBI made no use of DCS1000 to effect court-ordered surveillance during fiscal 2002 or 2003, the agency said in documents submitted to the U.S. House and Senate Judiciary Committees in 2003 and released to EPIC last week. According to the documents, the FBI used commercially available software to conduct court-ordered surveillance 13 times during 2002 and 2003.

"The reports suggest that the FBI"s need for Carnivore-like Internet surveillance tools is decreasing, likely because ISPs are providing Internet traffic surveillance directly to the government," EPIC said in a statement.

EPIC has called Carnivore a powerful but clumsy tool that endangers privacy rights. The group wanted the system to be suspended until questions surrounding it could be resolved.