posted Jul 30, 2001

FBI Bugging Case Goes to Court
Surveillance and Privacy from Government
'The legal limits for these new investigative tools will get a test Monday when a federal court in New Jersey examines a mob case in which agents, without a wiretap order, recorded a suspect's computer keystrokes....

'Armed only with a search warrant, the FBI broke into Scarfo's business and put either a program on his computer or an electronic bug in his keyboard -- officials will not say which -- and recorded everything typed by the son of the jailed former boss of a Philadelphia mob.'

Emphasis mine.

'Scarfo's lawyer wants a Newark, N.J., federal court to suppress the evidence and make the FBI say how the bug worked. The lawyer says that because the FBI recorded everything Scarfo typed, they got private e-mails that were not part of the investigation.'

'U.S. Attorney Robert J. Cleary has told the court that the surveillance device is a "highly sensitive law enforcement search and seizure technique" and should not be made public.'

I'm going to have to call that baloney. With a bit of work, I could build such a device, and I'm a software person, not a hardware person. I'm pretty sure such devices are also for sale in the civilian market. There's no secret here... it records keystrokes, and the FBI can later examine them. There aren't too many elaborations even possible.

'The government argues it only needed a search warrant for Scarfo's computer because the captured keystrokes were not immediately being transmitted on the phone line or on the Internet, and should not be considered the products of a wiretap.'

This case is going to cut to the heart of what exactly a wiretap is. The only reasonable outcome of this case is for the judge to rule that this was indeed a wiretap. The reasoning for this is that by the exact same argument the government is offering, the FBI also has the equal right to get a search warrent, place a sound recording device in the living room, and claim it's not a wiretap because the sounds weren't immediately transmitted "on the phone line or on the Internet". Some of the sounds were... some of the keystrokes were too. The parallel fits pretty well, and this is clearly not legal.



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