A week after the FBI announced it is
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
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
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.”