Documents reveal FBI plan to develop Carnivore

– The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is still developing its Carnivore Internet surveillance tool, according to FBI documents obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) through a Freedom of Information Act (FIOA) lawsuit.

The FBI is now creating “Enhanced Carnivore” under a contract that runs through January that calls for the development of two new versions of the system, David Sobel, general counsel at EPIC, said Thursday.

The documents, released to EPIC on Oct. 2 are the first of several installments that EPIC expects to receive as a result of its FOIA lawsuit over the controversial Carnivore, whose legality is being investigated by the U.S. Congress and questioned by privacy advocates.

Although more than a third of the information in the 565 documents turned over to EPIC have been blackened out, including some pages that only show a page number, EPIC officials have discovered some details not previously known about the system.

“The congressional attention thus far has focused on the history of Carnivore,” Sobel said. “The questions the documents raise have more to do with the future of the system.”

The documents show that a possible feature of future versions will be interception of Voice Over IP (Internet Protocol) communications, a technology commonly used to make phone calls using the Internet. However, much of the details about the new features were redacted, Sobel said. The documents also clarify Carnivore’s capabilities beyond e-mail surveillance, such as the system’s ability to extract packets that contain information about the Web sites an individual viewed and “presumably anything that is being communicated,” Sobel said.

The FBI spokesman who handles inquiries about Carnivore, Paul Bresson, said Monday that he couldn’t confirm that plans call for future versions of Carnivore to include VOIP, but he said law enforcement authorities don’t want to find themselves in a situation in which “safe havens” are available for conducting criminal activity.

“There will always be continued challenges to law enforcement to keep pace with rapidly changing technologies,” Bresson said. “We can’t predict what those technologies will be. It will depend on what’s available to the rest of the world.”

EPIC filed the FOIA lawsuit after the FBI earlier this year revealed the existence of Carnivore. The lawsuit seeks the public release of all FBI records concerning Carnivore, including the source code, other technical details and legal analyses addressing the potential privacy implications of the technology. The source code of the Carnivore system was withheld in the first batch of documents.

According to the FBI Carnivore has been used in at least 25 criminal and national security investigations. However, while the FBI maintains the system is legal the use of Carnivore has outraged not only EPIC, but also the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and some members of Congress.

The documents in EPIC’s hands also confirm that Carnivore was conceived under the name Omnivore in February 1997. Omnivore was proposed originally for a Solaris X86 computer but was replaced by Carnivore, running on a Windows NT-based computer, in June 1999. Other parts of the documents include reviews of tests for performance, and recovery from attacks and crashes for both Omnivore and Carnivore. Carnivore consists of a PC running Windows and proprietary software.

The FBI has said it has 3,000 pages of material related to Carnivore in its files. It has agreed to disclose records to EPIC every 45 days. The next installment is expected in the middle of next month.

EPIC, in Washington D.C., can be reached at

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