FBI Renames 'Carnivore' Internet Wiretap

February 14, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON, DC — The controversial Internet surveillance tool known as “Carnivore” has been renamed DCS1000, a name devoid of any negative associations, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said Tuesday, Reuters reported.

According to Reuters, Paul Bresson, an FBI spokesman, said, “With upgrades come new names.”

The old name of a flesh-eating predator had conjured up “unfortunate” images for many people, he added.

Carnivore is specialized software installed on an Internet service provider’s network under federal wiretap authority. Used in criminal and national security cases, it is capable of keeping tabs on a suspect’s e-mail, instant messages and Web surfing activities.

Privacy and civil-rights advocates argue that the system violates protections against unreasonable search and seizure in the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. Former Attorney General Janet Reno ordered an independent review of its inner workings after a stir in Congress.

The name change was to have been rolled out in conjunction with an internal Justice Department review of Carnivore to be presented to Attorney General John Ashcroft soon, an FBI official said. But the change was leaked to a trade publication, Government Computer News.

“Had it not been called Carnivore, it probably wouldn’t have stirred as much controversy,” Bresson said. He said the new alpha-numeric “doesn’t stand for anything.”

Critics said the FBI was kidding itself if it thought a name change alone would allay fears. They consider the system ripe for abuse largely because of the secrecy surrounding how it scans passing data to find the court-authorized target.

“It’s not the name that worries people,” said David Sobel of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center. “It’s the way this system works.”

Barry Steinhardt, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union, added: “If it prowls like a wolf, howls like a wolf and has the voracious appetite of a wolf, it’s still a carnivore.”

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