Goodbye Carnivore?
January 16, 2005 11:08 AM   Subscribe

Carnivore, the gold standard for conspiracy theory, has apparently been mothballed. An interesting element of this is that Carnivore has been removed from service not because it is invasive of civil liberties, but rather because it has failed to perform against commercially-available monitoring technologies. Of course, since we do not know what those technologies *are*, it may be that they have built into them considerations of individual rights to privacy that Carnivore could not be altered to respect. However, given the drift of the US on matters of data privacy, this seems unlikely... So, what are the programmes that do it better than Carnivore? What do they have to offer that Carniviore doesn't, or is it just the ISPs are now offering information straight to the government? And does this mean that it is no longer fashionable to append long strings of exciting-sounding nouns to emails? (Apologies if this is old news to the more plugged-in - this report has only just been released under FOI)
posted by tannhauser (27 comments total)
( Link is to a PDF. )
posted by TheNakedPixel at 11:30 AM on January 16, 2005

Sorry, is that bad form? Apologies.

Alternatively, one could go to the home page of the Electronic Privacy Information Centre. There's a story on it in The Register, also...
posted by tannhauser at 11:36 AM on January 16, 2005

Carnivore was theory? The proposal was quite serious and not at all tin foil hat conspiracy territory.
posted by nofundy at 11:42 AM on January 16, 2005

Carnivore was theory?

Carnivore isn't a theory. It is a software application that runs on Windows 2000 server.

I have a video of an FBI briefing to service providers and network administrators explaining how it works. It is an interesting watch. I'll see if I can dig it up and upload it...
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 11:50 AM on January 16, 2005

Maybe it was a vegan?
posted by alteredcarbon at 11:50 AM on January 16, 2005

Carnivore was a joke. As a sniffer, there are a lot of better alternatives (both commercial and free/open source software. This makes it a waste of both of taxpayers' dollars and everyone's time as they sit around imagining what it could or could not be. If you're really concerned about your network privacy, take a look at Tor from the EFF folks.
posted by elvolio at 12:18 PM on January 16, 2005

Jim Bamford, who has had very good access to NSA for his two books on the agency, mentions 'carnivore' in passing. However that's not the really big problem. I own no tin hats.
posted by nj_subgenius at 12:30 PM on January 16, 2005

I believe this has something to do with what information the Govt. is allowed to keep and use under the Patriot act.

First, the Govt. can compile dossiers on people and groups just so long as we are under a guarded state of security.

As long as the Terror Alert Warning Banana Man keeps dancing yellow and above, they can keep the information.
As soon as it goes back to "Green Alert Status" (which it NEVER WILL AGAIN...) all those files become legally unusable and must disappear.

I believe there is a provision that states that the USA cannot compile lists themselves out of thin air (or something) and can only cross refrence other, "private" lists as those used by the airlines, hotels, taxi services, ISP's, etc.

Why would they want their own system that is merely redundant to other services that are "readily" available?

Govt. can smell an outsourcing solution a mile away.

What do you really think that the spyware that infects EVERYONE's computer if you try to visit damn near ANY site on the net is collecting?

Gain (Gator) is INCLUDED in Windows, and is one of the worst ones to get rid of.

I may be totally off the mark on this, since I provided no links, But I've convinced myself, and isn't that all that really matters?

(I hear MYLAR is the "New" tinfoil... It keeps out the Govt. brain control waves, reflects harsh sunspot activity, and, if you have the whole body suit, you may look like a shiny Umpa-Loompa, but it's harder for the Blackhawks to track you using infrared scopes, too...)
posted by Balisong at 12:37 PM on January 16, 2005

Carnivore the gold standard for conspiracy theory? I would think that honor would go to MK-ULTRA or the like.
posted by hattifattener at 12:38 PM on January 16, 2005

Gain (Gator) is INCLUDED in Windows.

I hope you don't actually believe this. It is laughably untrue.
posted by Bugbread at 12:45 PM on January 16, 2005

Heh, Yeah, Laughable..
posted by Balisong at 12:46 PM on January 16, 2005

Gain (Gator) is INCLUDED in Windows.

I hope you don't actually believe this. It is laughably untrue.

No it just automatically downloads as an extra special 'service pack' as soon as you connect to the internets.
posted by nathan_teske at 12:51 PM on January 16, 2005

What does Gain, and all the other Spyware do with the lists thay create?
See what someone is buying on, yes. See what you are posting on Metafilter, yes..

Do you think they would sell those lists of information?
Would the Govt. want any of that information?

Given a subpeona, I'm sure it wouldn't be that hard..
And you wouldn't need to pay 3 FBI guys to sit in a van across from your house.
posted by Balisong at 12:51 PM on January 16, 2005

No, he's right. It's laughably untrue. Gain doesn't come with windows.
posted by shmegegge at 12:52 PM on January 16, 2005

and you don't even have to give a subpoena--companies have willingly given their info over.
posted by amberglow at 12:53 PM on January 16, 2005

I stand corrected on any inaccuracies.
Like I said, I only need to convince myself.
posted by Balisong at 12:53 PM on January 16, 2005

There are tools that are available in almost any linux distribution that, when used in the right combination, can do what carnivore does. What they do not provide is access to the switches and monitoring points which pass the information you want to snoop around in.

off the top of my head:

I'm not sure about the ins and outs of carnivore, but I suppose that if the government required a carnivore client to be embedded in an operating system they could force all network traffic to be mirrored to a central carnivore network for analyzing.

Interesting that folks are so convinced that this has not been done in windows. Had a good look at the source code lately? Read the EULA lately? They could do it, and may have done it or may do it, and very few people would even know until they started using it. Seems like a moot point now tho....
posted by crunchywelch at 1:03 PM on January 16, 2005

On theory vs practice - the fact that carnivore existed was rather my point. That one could always, as a conspiracy theorist, point out that a government-owned technology to monitor and survey Internet traffic demonstrably existed. Whether this then made the existence of Echelon et alia more or less likely is where opinions tend to differ.

What this does seem to suggest is that either Carnivore (DCS-1000, post-rebrand was simply not very good, and has been outstripped by commercial programmes, probably with far lower development budgets, or that the attitude of ISPs towards handing data over has changed to the extent that the issues Carnivore was seeking to deal with no longer exist. Most obviously, the use of Carnivore to gather low-level information without a warrant, complaints about which revealed Carnivore's existence in 2000, has now been built into the Patriot Act, as I understand it.
posted by tannhauser at 1:29 PM on January 16, 2005

Sort of like how there have been cases that have been closed for the benefit of a certian testimony, only opened again afterward...

All so someone could say "We have no (Insert Patriot Act Use) ongoing at this time."

Sneaky, I tells ya... Those guys try and be as sneaky as they can...
posted by Balisong at 1:37 PM on January 16, 2005

I would be willing to bet that Autonomy software is part of the picture. Blatant self-link warning:I wrote a lengthy piece in Wired five years ago about Autonomy's ability to aggregate keywords and subjects of discourse from "unstructured data" (such as, say, all the email passing through an ISP, or all the posts in MetaFilter's archive.) Imagine how useful in surveillance software like this would be:

"To determine whether two passages are concerned with the same fundamental ideas, Lynch realized, you don't need to know the meaning of each word. In fact, it's not even necessary to be able to speak the language. As long as you can teach the computer where one word ends and another begins, it can look at the ideas contained in a text as the outcomes of probabilities derived from the clustering of certain symbols. The symbol penguin, for instance, might refer to the Antarctic bird, a hockey team, or Batman's nemesis. If it clusters near certain other symbols in a passage, however - say, ice, South Pole, flightless, and black and white - penguin most likely refers to the bird. You can carry the process further: If those other words are present, there's an excellent chance the text is about penguins, even if the symbol for penguin itself is absent."

At the time I wrote the piece, I did know that something like Echelon was in the works, and that Autonomy's software was part of it. What I didn't know was that Bushite neo-con powerbroker Richard Perle sits on Autonomy's board of directors.
posted by digaman at 2:49 PM on January 16, 2005

(I hear MYLAR is the "New" tinfoil... It keeps out the Govt. brain control waves, reflects harsh sunspot activity, and, if you have the whole body suit, you may look like a shiny Umpa-Loompa, but it's harder for the Blackhawks to track you using infrared scopes, too...)

"I hope you don't actually believe this. It is laughably untrue."

Mylar does nothing, and in fact, the anti-thought rays have increased in both frequency and intensity since the recent election, requiring a switch to heavier foil than ever. I recommend the disposable cookie sheets from the dollar store, as the interesting texture seems, in my own experience, to help.
posted by cookie-k at 5:19 PM on January 16, 2005

Well, if we're talking conspiracy theories ...

Carnivore? Cancelled? Sure, that's what they want you to believe.

Oh, come on, don't look at me like that. Somebody was gonna say it ... :)
posted by kaemaril at 6:20 PM on January 16, 2005

./carnivore | grep metafilter
posted by angry modem at 9:06 PM on January 16, 2005

*Krrrlson breaks all his windows in search of the elusive alligator.*
posted by Krrrlson at 9:11 PM on January 16, 2005

I'm liking the idea of Herbivore, which monitors *all* web traffic data, but is too weak to do anything about it...
posted by tannhauser at 1:14 AM on January 17, 2005

Great finish, tannhauser.
posted by donfactor at 10:47 AM on January 17, 2005

« Older X-Treme Dads   |   Links and pictures oh my Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments