This story was written by Keith Dawson for the Industry Standard's Media Grok email newsletter. It is archived here for informational purposes only because The Standard's site is no more. This material is Copyright 1999-2001 by Standard Media.

Pretty Good Wiretapping?

Jul 30 2001 08:33 AM PDT

The FBI breaks through the privacy software of an alleged mobster, who cries foul.

Major outlets examined a gnarly issue that will be argued tomorrow in the federal case against an accused mobster and loan shark. Armed only with a search warrant, FBI agents surreptitiously broke into the suspect's business and bugged his computer to record his keystrokes. The bug later captured the suspect typing in a pass-phrase that let law-enforcement officials decrypt incriminating material they had seized in an earlier raid.

The suspect, Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo, had protected all of the files on his computer using the popular PGP (pretty good privacy) software.

The FBI isn't describing the exact method it used to capture Scarfo's keystrokes. The defense wants to know whether the feds planted a hardware or a software bug, because its exact workings could determine whether the bugging amounted to a wiretap. If so, then the feds should have jumped through more legal hoops before planting it.

Both the BBC and the New York Times quoted the Electronic Privacy Information Center's David Sobel on the case's impact on citizens' right to privacy: "It gets about as close to the common perception of Big Brother as anything I could really imagine."

Writing for the Times, John Schwartz ended his piece with this thought from Phil Zimmerman, inventor of the PGP encryption program. "I knew PGP would be used by criminals; I felt bad about that," Zimmerman said. He added that "the good uses to which PGP is put are so compelling that we have to factor that into the whole equation." What protects political dissidents can protect bad guys, too.

As law enforcement uses more high-tech gadgets, further legal hurdles await (AP)

Organized Crime Case Raises Privacy Issues
New York Times

FBI challenged over cyber spying

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