SW Legal studies in Business

Search Warrants May Allow Computer Keystrokes To Be Recorded
Description Court denied a motion to suppress evidence gathered by the FBI by putting a Key Logger System on a computer to allow them to learn the password to access a file containing information about illegal activities. Such data collection is allowed under a search warrant and is not a wiretap since it did not involve intercepting information sent by modem.
Topic Cyberlaw
Key Words Evidence; Search Warrant; Encryption; Password; Key Logger System
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Acting under a search warrant, the FBI entered Scarfo's office to search for evidence of illegal activities. While searching Scarfo's PC, the agents came across an encrypted file they suspected contained evidence of illegal operations. Returning with another search warrant, they installed a "Key Logger System" on the computer, which allowed them to learn Scarfo's password when he typed it. The FBI then gained entry into the encrypted file which contained evidence used to obtain indictments. Scarfo filed a motion to suppress the evidence recovered from his computer contending that it was an illegal wiretap.

Motion denied. The search warrant specifically identified the evidence sought to be linked to the crime being investigated. The Key Logger System used by the FBI to obtain the password to the file did not operate when the computer's modem was active and so did not involve a wiretap, which requires a different warrant. The FBI has an obligation to describe the technique and equipment used to monitor the computer, but there is no obligation to full disclosure of all software and specific equipment used, some of which is classified.

Citation U.S. v. Scarfo, F.Supp.2d (2001 WL 1650936, D. N.J., 2001)

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