Genie is Out of the FBIs "Magic Lantern"
Since the tragic
events of September 11, there has been considerable debate over
increased government powers to fight the war on terrorism. Some
of these new powers may be necessary, while others could result
in more harm than good by eroding some of the fundamental freedoms
that our constitutional republic requires.
The most recent
debate centers on a new technology the FBI is reportedly developing
called "Magic Lantern." This technology would permit the
FBI and other law enforcement agencies to significantly expand cyber-surveillance
capabilities. According to numerous news reports, Magic Lantern
remotely installs a virus onto a suspects computer, which
then logs all keystrokes made on the system. This would enable law
enforcement agents to obtain passcodes to read data and communications
that have been encrypted or scrambled, techniques some believe were
used by the terrorists in the planning and implementation of the
September 11 attacks. Rather than crack the encryption itself, which
could take months or years using traditional code-cracking techniques,
law enforcement would be able to obtain passwords to the encrypted
data by reading through keystroke logs.
this new technology claim Magic Lantern will resolve many of the
frustrations the FBI faces today in cracking encrypted communications
in criminal and terrorist investigations. Furthermore, proponents
argue that the ability to remotely attach the software mitigates
problems with existing monitoring technology, which requires investigators
to obtain a "sneak-and-peak warrant" to physically attach
devices to a suspects computer in his/her home or business.
Magic Lantern can be installed on a suspects computer by sending
a phony e-mail attachment or by using the same techniques hackers
use in exploiting weaknesses in commonly used commercial software.
Magic Lantern claim the new eavesdropping software goes too far
and raises serious constitutional questions regarding privacy and
property matters, as it alters the suspects computer without
his or her consent. They argue that the smallest change or addition
in code by the FBI can significantly corrupt performance of the
system, or worse, result in loss of data or a complete crash. Similar
criticism has been leveled against anti-virus software companies
that are reportedly colluding with the FBI to ensure their programs
dont inadvertently detect Magic Lantern and alert the suspect.
argue that such surveillance power could lack sufficient judicial
oversight. Due to the remote installation capability, it could allow
law enforcement to circumvent wire-tapping restrictions, enabling
the government to use the technology under authority of a traditional
search warrant, which involves significantly less oversight by the
So does Magic
Lantern violate fundamental privacy and property protections or
does it level the playing field between law enforcement and criminals?
can be made that Magic Lantern is more palatable and raises fewer
Fourth Amendment search and seizure concerns than other cyber-surveillance
methods such as the FBIs controversial Carnivore program.
Unlike Carnivore, Magic Lantern targets an individual suspect, rather
than gathering communications and web activities from the population
of a specific geographical region catching some innocent
and unsuspected people in the surveillance net. On the other hand,
Magic Lantern-type keylogging software may result in "overly
broad" searches, as the virus would enable investigators to
read every key stroke entered by the suspect. A search may be overly
broad if investigators had to monitor every keystroke made by the
suspect to obtain encryption passcodes if a court-ordered warrant
only permits a search for such passcodes.
One thing is
certain, Magic Lantern is less intrusive than the concept of "encryption
key escrow," which grants government the keys to all encryption
software. Shortly after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade
Center and the Pentagon, Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), in a statement
on the Senate floor, called for a global ban on all data-scrambling
technology without government backdoor keys for surveillance purposes.
He later stated that he was drafting legislation to give law enforcement
more tools to unscramble messages to prevent future terrorist attacks.
After protests from several cryptologists and academics, Senator
Gregg retreated from the idea.
The events of
September 11 may warrant additional law enforcement tools to aggressively
pursue legitimate suspects in criminal and terrorist investigations.
But the grant of these new tools must be done with a watchful
eye on the Constitution and the preservation of individual liberties
and freedoms that it embodies. As far as Magic Lantern is concerned,
far more knowledge needs to be obtained before an educated judgment
can be made on whether or not it goes too far.
to many of the new provisions sought by law enforcement authorities
to adequately conquer terrorism, the Center for Individual Freedom
has a simple mantra: Find a judge and get an appropriate court supervised
warrant. If you cant find a judge, one will be appointed for
on November 30, 2001]