FBI puts Carnivore out to pasture

The FBI has replaced its Internet surveillance tool formerly known as Carnivore with commercial software, according to documents obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center under the Freedom of Information Act.

The bureau in 2001 changed the tool's name to Digital Collection System 1000 following an outcry over the system's privacy implications.

According to a report the FBI filed in 2003 with the House Judiciary Committee, "The FBI made no use of DCS 1000 to effect court-ordered surveillance during 2003 but rather used commercially available software."

FBI spokesman Paul Bresson confirmed that the bureau had adopted commercial tools to carry out court-ordered Internet surveillance. "Back in 1999 when we [began] using Carnivore, it was the best software available for effecting court ordered wiretaps and protecting privacy," Bresson said.

"What we have seen in the last four or five years is that vendors have seen that the FBI needs" commercial surveillance software, Bresson said. He added that bureau officials had always expected to switch to commercial monitoring applications.

A congressional source familiar with the technology said that Carnivore is different from the bureau's current Internet monitoring technology because it is able to access private databases closed to the commercial tools. The FBI had sought to negotiate agreements with owners of the proprietary databases to permit federal access to that data, the source said.

Bresson said the FBI had designed Carnivore to assist smaller Internet service providers that did not have the technological resources to implement court-ordered wiretaps. The bureau now receives its wiretapping information directly from the ISPs, according to the documents EPIC obtained.

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