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FBI Abandons Carnivore

A week after the FBI announced it is dumping a custom-built case management application in favor of off-the-shelf software, new documents reveal the agency has apparently also abandoned its controversial Carnivore Internet surveillance program.

According to reports obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the FBI did not use Carnivore in any Internet snooping activities in either 2002 or 2003.

Instead, the reports to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees say the FBI used commercially available software in its 13 Internet taps over the two-year period.

The FBI did not return calls seeking comment on Carnivore.

Officially known as the Digital Collection System 1000 (DCS-1000), Carnivore captures data traffic that flows through an Internet service provider (ISP). The system prompted a flurry of criticism from privacy advocates when it was announced in 2000 during the Clinton administration.

EPIC claims a "great deal" of the Internet traffic that Carnivore accesses and processes contains the communications of Internet users not targeted and not named in any court authorization. Traditional telephone wiretaps are capable of strict specificity.

The FBI has consistently claimed that the system filters data traffic and only retains packets which the court has authorized investigators to obtain. However, the FBI has kept the system shrouded in secrecy.

After the existence of the system first came to light in 2000, EPIC pursued FBI documents related to it under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). EPIC said it wanted the FBI to publicly release all records concerning Carnivore, including source code, other technical details and legal analyses addressing the potential privacy implications of the technology.

According to EPIC court documents, "Carnivore provides law enforcement with access to the private communications of all subscribers of a particular service provider. It is this unique aspect of Carnivore that gives rise to fundamental privacy risks."

In releasing the FOIA documents, EPIC speculates that the "FBI's need for Carnivore-like Internet surveillance tools is decreasing, likely because ISPs are providing Internet traffic information directly to the government."