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The FBI has essentially put Carnivore, its controversial e-mail surveillance system, out to pasture, say reports submitted to Congress and recently made public under the Freedom of Information Act.
Carnivore -- officially dubbed DCS 1000 -- is a system designed to intercept e-mail and other online activities of suspected criminals, including terrorists. Its existence was first disclosed in the summer of 2000. Since then, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) based in Washington, D.C., has used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain hundreds of pages of documents in an effort to find out more about Carnivore.

According to the reports recently handed over to the EPIC -- which the FBI was required to file with Congress for the 2002 and 2003 fiscal years -- the bureau did not use Carnivore in either year. Instead, "the FBI made no use of DCS 1000 to effect court-ordered surveillance during FY 2003, but rather utilized commercially available software," said the newest report.

Although the details of Carnivore remain obscure, it's believed the system -- and any commercial software that the FBI uses in its stead -- is installed on the premises of an ISP, and can monitor all traffic through that provider.

The broad scope has been the root of criticism of Carnivore by civil liberties groups such as the EPIC, who see it an invitation for abuse.

During 2002 and 2003, the reports say, the FBI used the commercial software to do court-ordered Internet surveillance nine times. Five of those nine cases involved terrorist or possible terrorist criminal investigations.

"The reports suggest 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," said the EPIC in a statement.
  2005-01-19
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