PACKET RAT

Will the FBI be able to solve image problem with kinder, gentler Carnivore?

R. Fink

The Rat's hotline to the Justice Department rang early one weekend morning, and the whiskered one stumbled in his bunny slippers to the flashing phone.

He answered with his usual Saturday morning growl, 'What now?'

'Please hold for a call from the director's office,' said a voice at the other end. After a few moments of excruciatingly loud hold music, the cyberrodent's peer-to-peer peer at the bureau came on the line.

'We need your help with, er, a positioning matter.'

'Sounds like something I can sink my teeth into,' said the Rat, having already guessed the reason for the call. 'You guys on the wrong end of the food chain again?'

He could almost hear the wince across the phone line. Obviously, he had guessed right: The call concerned Carnivore, the FBI's e-mail filtering device that has privacy advocates buzzing like hornets.

'OK, so maybe in retrospect Carnivore was not a PR-friendly code name. That's why I'm calling. The director knows how you can churn out soothing technobabble, and he'd like you to consider taking on Carnivore as a free-lance project.

'We've taken the liberty of sending you a system and the specs by courier so you can take a look at things in your lab. We'll await your comments.'

An hour or so later, a pair of sunglasses-sporting Mulder lookalikes arrived at the burrow door with a crate. Soon the Rat was elbow-deep in Carnivore guts and documentation.

Later that day, he made a return call to his friends at the Hoover building. 'I've looked things over, and I've got some preliminary recommendations to get you past congressional oversight. You've got to exploit another hot-button issue right now if you're ever going to survive the committee hearings. You know, something like family values.'

'Sounds good,' said the voice from the bureau. 'Family values fly'that's the feedback we got on Elian.'

The Rat continued: 'So first, there's the name. I know how alpha-male you guys are over there, but Carnivore is just not going to cut it with Congress.

'At first, I thought maybe you could just get a little more precise'say, call it by a specific carnivore's name, one of the less threatening, family-values-oriented ones. But Bald Eagle's been done to the point of near-extinction. I also considered some animals possibly more in line with what the system does, like Ferret or Weasel.'

'I don't think weasels match up well with the image we're trying to project,' opined the director's errand boy.

It's only a name

'I agree,' the wirebiter replied. 'So, after careful consideration by an informal focus group, I've got your new code name for you: Thumper.'

'Uh, Thumper?' queried the confused voice on the other end.

'Yeah, you know'that mischievous yet basically harmless rabbit friend of Bambi's. Unthreatening, cute, family-friendly. It'll win big points with the female demographic. Trust me.

'Now, as for the packaging, a locked box is a bit intimidating. Based on the system and specs you've sent me, I've built a prototype that runs on a slightly modified indigo iMac. You guys could use a little of that 'Think Different' mojo to your benefit, don't you agree?'

'Sure,' the bureau man said. 'Tell you what. Why don't you keep working on ideas, and we'll take your suggestions under advisement. We'll call you back if we need anything.' The line went dead.

'Ah, yes,' sighed the Rat, as he turned to his puzzled spouse. 'Calvin and Hobbes' First Principle has served me well once more.'

'And what's that, dear?' she asked.

'If you do something poorly enough, you won't be asked to do it again,' the whiskered one sighed with a grin.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@gcn.com.

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