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Friday, 24 August, 2001, 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK
FBI keeps its bugging secrets
Keyboard, BBC
It is not clear how the FBI logged Mr Scarfo's keystrokes
The FBI has defeated an attempt to force it to reveal in detail how it bugged the keyboard of the son of a mafia boss.

The Bureau had bugged the keyboard of Nicodemo Scarfo after it failed to unscramble encrypted files on his computer's hard disk.

Lawyers for Mr Scarfo - subsequently charged with running illegal gambling and loan operations - had pushed to discover the bugging method used and have the FBI's evidence ruled inadmissible.

But the US Government used extraordinary secrecy procedures to persuade the trial judge that the defence be given only an "unclassified summary".

The case is seen by privacy experts as testing the limits of cutting-edge cyber-surveillance technology used by the US authorities to fight crime.

National security invoked

US District Judge Nicholas Politan had initially ruled that the FBI had to detail the system used to gain the information.

He said an understanding of the key logging device was necessary before a ruling could be made as to the lawfulness of the government's search.

But on Thursday, the US Government invoked the Classified Information Procedures Act which is used to protect against the unauthorised disclosure of information for reasons of national security.

Instead, it offered to provide the defence with an unclassified summary of the technique that it said would supply enough information to allow the court to rule on whether the evidence was admissible.

It also offered to give a more complete description of the key logger system in camera to reassure the court that no vital information was being withheld.

Judge Politan has agreed to the request, giving the US Government until 14 September to supply the necessary information.

Encrypted files

Mr Scarfo used an encryption program to scramble his computer files so that when the FBI gained access to his hard disk in January 1999, it was unable to unscramble them without the password.

It went back to his computer and installed a key logging system, which subsequently revealed his password and alleged records of a $5m-a-year mob-linked bookmaking and loan-sharking operation in New Jersey.

The Bureau had a search warrant at the time, but no approval to carry out a bugging operation.

Mr Scarfo's lawyers say the FBI infringed their client's constitutional rights, but the Bureau argues the key logger does not fall under the terms of current legislation on bugging.

Privacy experts say the FBI is using investigative technology that goes beyond existing laws.

Earlier this year, the FBI used a computer eavesdropping technique to ensnare two alleged Russian hackers.

They were suspected of hacking into US internet companies, stealing sensitive data and trying to extort money. That case has yet to go to trial.

See also:

08 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
FBI ordered to reveal bugging trick
07 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Russian programmer gets bail
31 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
FBI challenged over cyber spying
19 Jul 01 | Americas
FBI under fire in Congress
18 Jul 01 | Americas
Net clues sought in intern hunt
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