What Does Carnivore Mean?

Carnivore is a software surveillance system that tracks personal Internet use. The FBI developed the Carnivore surveillance system to track the Internet use of alleged criminals, as well as anyone coming into contact with someone under surveillance. Carnivore analyzes electronic information through local area networks (LAN). The system was a Microsoft Windows workstation, which employed strong filtering components using a complex content model development.


The FBI replaced the Carnivore surveillance system with NarusInsight in 2005. Warrants are required to engage in such surveillance.

Techopedia Explains Carnivore

The FBI named its surveillance system Carnivore because it is a system that gets to the “meat” of a matter. Due to bad press, controversial use and alleged misuse of the Carnivore system, the FBI renamed it DCS1000. In 2005, the FBI discontinued Carnivore in favor of commercial surveillance software developed by Narus.

Carnivore worked by matching an email with warrant information. This was presumed to be relayed in real-time to the FBI. Another basic presumption was that unnecessary or impertinent electronic information was not relayed. Basic information regarding the date and time of the email or other Internet activity was also captured by Carnivore.

At the turn of the century, privacy advocates – such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center – claimed that the Carnivore surveillance system was abusive and infringed the rights of Internet users. Although these concerns were submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives, the only result was the NarusInsight product name change.


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Margaret Rouse

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.