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Privacy Group Sues FBI Over Next-Gen Carnivore Databases

A privacy-advocacy group is suing the U.S. government for records concerning electronic-surveillance tools such as one that appears to be a successor to the FBI's abandoned Carnivore program.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation said it is suing the Department of Justice because the FBI failed to respond in time to its Freedom of Information Act request for records on the DCS-3000 and Red Hook programs.

DCS-3000 is an interception system that the EFF said apparently evolved out of Carnivore, a system later renamed DCS-1000. The FBI developed Carnivore to read e-mails and other online communications among suspected criminals, terrorists and spies, but privacy groups and lawmakers complained it could collect much more than allowed by a warrant.

A Justice Department Inspector General report in March said the FBI had spent about $10 million on DCS-3000 to intercept communications over emerging digital technologies used by wireless carriers before next year's federal deadline for them to deploy their own wiretap capabilities.

The same report said the FBI spent more than $1.5 million to develop Red Hook, "a system to collect voice and data calls and then process and display the intercepted information" before those wiretap capabilities are in place.

The San Francisco-based EFF, which recently opened a Washington office with two attorneys lured from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, filed the lawsuit Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

"The lawsuit is to force the FBI to release information about this to the public," Marcia Hofmann, an EFF staff attorney, said Wednesday. She added that the group would be exploring further legal action in the coming weeks.

The FOIA response deadline is usually 20 working days, unless an agency asks for more time, but the FBI did not do that in this case, Hofmann said.

The FBI declined comment, citing the pending lawsuit.

The FBI performed 13 Internet wiretaps in fiscal 2002 and 2003, but none used Carnivore, according to bureau oversight reports submitted to Congress and obtained last year under a FOIA request by the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center.

The FBI also said then that the part of its budget containing information on the cost to produce Carnivore was classified, but outside experts estimated it to be between $6 million and $15 million.

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