[Reader-list] FBI Software Program Records Each Keystroke

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at mnet.fr
Sun Dec 23 15:04:19 IST 2001

Published on Tuesday, December 18, 2001 in the Seattle Times
Going Backwards
FBI Software Program Records Each Keystroke
by Bob Port New York Daily News

The FBI is planning to give away computer software. All you have to 
do to get some is make the bureau think you're involved in crime.
The software is called Magic Lantern, and along with the Justice 
Department's greatly expanded powers, it's making civil libertarians 

Magic Lantern is a program that records each keystroke made on a 
target computer and transmits that data to the bureau. The FBI 
doesn't even have to go to the computer's location because Magic 
Lantern can install itself, just like a Trojan-horse computer virus. 
And like a Trojan horse, it disguises itself as a benign code.

The FBI has acknowledged Magic Lantern's existence but little more. 
The program is intended to sidestep one of the most difficult 
eavesdropping hurdles: encryption.

Encrypted e-mail is almost impossible to decipher without a key, a 
small computer file that unscrambles the code. Without the key, 
encrypted e-mail is gibberish. The key, in turn, is protected by a 

Magic Lantern apparently doesn't try to decrypt e-mail. Instead, it 
records the characters as they're typed. With it, the bureau can 
obtain a suspect's password and then the encryption key.

Encrypted e-mail has bedeviled the FBI for years.

Its first attempt to get around the problem was a device that 
recorded keystrokes, called a key logger. But unlike Magic Lantern, 
the device required an agent to sneak into a suspect's home or office 
to install it on a computer.

While few people argue that such devices can be invaluable in 
national-security cases, some contend that their use in other types 
of cases is inevitable.

In fact, evidence developed with a keystroke-logging device already 
has been used in the trial of suspected Philadelphia mobster Nicodemo 

The recently passed USA Patriot Act gives the Justice Department much 
more freedom to record e-mail information. One provision can force a 
judge to issue an order for recording the addresses to which a 
suspect sends messages and from which the suspect gets messages — if 
a prosecutor files papers certifying that e-mail is relevant to an 

Privacy advocates argue the law is far too open to interpretation.

"What is relevant?" asked David Sobel, general counsel to the 
Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. "Anything could 
be relevant."

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