February 9, 2001 10:05 AM PST

FBI takes the teeth out of Carnivore's name

The FBI has dressed its online wolf in sheep's clothing, changing the name of its controversial e-mail surveillance system, known to this point as Carnivore.

Carnivore now goes by the less beastly moniker of DCS1000, drawn from the work it does as a "digital collection system." The investigative agency built the tool to monitor the Internet communications of suspects under its surveillance, but the system, housed on computers at Internet service providers, also can collect e-mail messages from people who are not part of an FBI probe.

A spokesman for the FBI denied that the name change stemmed from worries that the name Carnivore made the system sound like a predatory device made to invade people's privacy. But the Illinois Institute of Technology, which last fall issued an analysis of the system at the request of the Justice Department, recommended that the name be changed for just that reason, according to an IIT analyst.

"We had a concern that it wasn't a good name for the system," said the IIT's Larry Reynolds. The group thought the name should be dumped, he said, "because of the very definition of the word."

The name change is the latest development in the controversy surrounding the surveillance tool, which came under public scrutiny last summer when privacy advocates began to decry it. In September, the Justice Department picked the IIT Research Institute to perform a government-sponsored technical review of the software.

The rechristening is part of an upgrade that incorporates other recommendations from the research group, according to Paul Bresson, a spokesman for the FBI. "It isn't because we were worried about negative privacy publicity. If it was, we would have changed (the name) months ago," he said. "This (system) is not something that remains static."

The upgrade was supposed to be coordinated with a Justice Department report on DCS1000 scheduled for release prior to Janet Reno's departure last month as attorney general, Bresson said. He did not say when that report will be made public.

 

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