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DCS1000: The Device Formerly Known as Carnivore

EPIC Info - Volume 8.03 - February 14, 2001

In an apparent effort to minimize the damage from one of its biggest recent public relations blunders, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has given the Carnivore Internet surveillance system a new name. From now on, the FBI will refer to the controversial device as "DCS1000." Despite some reports indicating that the name is an acronym for "data collection system," a Bureau spokesperson told Reuters that it "doesn't stand for anything."

The new name is reportedly just the first step in an anticipated make-over for Carnivore, which monitors large volumes of traffic passing through the facilities of an Internet service provider and, according to the FBI, captures only those data packets that the Bureau has legal authorization to collect. The Justice Department is soon expected to present the results of an internal review of Carnivore, along with recommended changes, to Attorney General John Ashcroft. That internal report was originally scheduled to be presented to former Attorney General Janet Reno in December; the Department has issued no public explanation for the delay.

The re-naming is not the only damage control attempted by the Bureau in recent weeks. In a letter dated January 23, FBI Laboratory Director Donald Kerr responded to questions about Carnivore raised by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee, citing language contained in internal FBI documents released to EPIC, had asked the Bureau to explain the results of a test showing that Carnivore "could reliably capture and archive all unfiltered traffic" transmitted through an Internet service provider and store the communications on a hard drive or removable disks (see EPIC Alert 7.21). Kerr responded that:

Theoretically if Carnivore were to be installed and configured so as to attempt to intercept and archive "all" traffic in a *very small* ISP . . . , Carnivore might conceivably be able to reliably capture and archive the traffic packets. However, it could not do so as to an ISP of any true size.

The FBI recently completed its processing of EPIC's Freedom of Information Act request for Carnivore material, withholding a significant amount of information. EPIC's FOIA lawsuit is continuing, and the court will consider the propriety of the Bureau's withholding decisions over the next few months.

A scanned image of the January 23 FBI letter to Sens. Hatch and Leahy is available at:

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.

[posted 2/16/01]

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