Imagine yourself seated in a mid-nineteenth century parlor. The time is early afternoon but the room is dark as night, with heavy quilts secured over all the windows, and only a couple of dim lamps to provide light. You're surrounded by whispering friends and acquaintances, people from around town who have heard a rumors about Magic Lantern shows and want to see one for themselves. In the back of the room is the lantern itself, smaller than you had imagined and difficult to make out in the darkness. A few bright lines of light trace its contours, and the brass casing radiates heat, both indicating the fire that must be burning inside of it.

Suddenly, a painting of a pretty seated woman appears on the wall in front of you, eight or ten feet wide and just as tall. There's no frame, and the picture is so bright in contrast with the rest of the room that it seems to radiate light. On closer inspection it is doing just that, since you can see the face of the man to your right in the pale yellow ambiance. Very nice, but not worth the ten cents, you think to yourself, then quickly silence the thought as trivial.

Loud and deep, the presenter's voice booms out from beside the machine, telling the illuminated lady's story. As he speaks, there appear distortions around her knees, phantasmagorical. It happens so slowly that at first you are not even sure that you're seeing anything, but soon they are unmistakably real, the forms of young children. As the speaker says aloud their names, their appearance is made complete on the image, quite a remarkable effect. You settle into your chair for what will prove a lengthy and compelling show.

Before photography was commonplace, and long before the rise of motion pictures, the magic lantern held sway in multimedia entertainment. It was a comparatively simple device: a box with a source of light, often gas or limelight, and mirrored walls; a smoke-stack (!) to let out the exhaust of combustion; a clip which held a single slide with one or more images; and one or two lenses to focus the image. In essence, a slide projector. When paired with a good speaker and interesting slides, the presentation must have been marvelously entertaining and novel to their audience.

The earliest magic lantern-like devices were made in the early 1400's, and projected with candle light alone and no lenses for focusing. It was described in a book by Giovanni de Fontana, and is told (after translation) to provide an image of the devil as "a nocturnal appearance for terrifying viewers." Two hundred years later, in 1646, a Jesuit named Athanasius Kircher published a design which projected with sunlight or candle light, and used a convex lens to focus the image. Soon after that working with the lanterns caught on, and Christiaan Huygens is known to have made a few. Thomas Walgensten coined the term Lanterna Magica for the device, and toured Europe doing shows and selling lanterns. In 1666 Samuel Pepys bought one from John Reeves, a London optician who had gone into the Magic Lantern manufacturing business.

Many variations on the common design were made in the years following. Lanterns were designed to use every form of light conceivable at the time, from focused sunlight to electric arcs. Lanterns with two or more bodies and lenses were constructed, so images could be smoothly faded from one slide to the next. By 1886 a Magic Lanterns were available for any amount between $5 for a children's' model to $75 for an extreme luxury design. Later competition in the market would bring children's lanterns down to 75 cents. They were sold to families wanting a visual aspect added to their Victrola, entrepreneurs who would travel the countryside doing shows, and kids who could do shows for their friends with the included tickets and handbills.

Slides were where all the real intrigue of magic lanterns came from, and many of them survive today. Still images were printed on glass plates that were usually at least three and a half inches on the side. Printing was done by photochemical or traditional means. They were often painted by hand with translucent ink, giving them that charming Victorian colored photograph look. Subjects could be fine art, moral stories, fairytales, news pictures, bawdy humor, nature scenes, and so forth. Slides for children's' lanterns were smaller and more cheaply manufactured, and often sold in bulk without descriptions. Ultra-fragile mica, safer and cheaper than glass, was used for these slides, and few have survived.

Moving images were also possible on the magic lantern, accomplished by slides made of two or more panes of glass that could move independently. Slides were manufactured that could have rotating sections, areas that slid back and forth, swung, etc. Some were even made with integrated shutters, so that a crudely animated picture could be displayed. These special slides cost between $1.75 to $5.00 and up, and were an investment suitable only for traveling shows and the very well off.

There were also a surprising amount of abstract moving slides made, which projected images that might today be considered psychedelic. Chromatropes, for instance, featured two painted glass circles which rotated in opposite directions, which the catalog states are "almost equal to a grand display of fire-works." Along the same lines was the Eidotrope, which had counter-rotating perforated disks that projected sort of a star-vortex that could be colored with special inserts. Coolest of all was the Cycloidotrope, which could be described as a kind of projected spirograph. It had an arm suspended on a few clockwork gears, which traced intricate looping and spiraling patterns onto a disk coated with soot. The effect was of a complex pattern being traced out on the screen by an invisible hand.

Thanks Bruce Sterling's Dead Media Project for most of this knowledge.
Also, respect to anybody who adds the FBI's Magic Lantern software to this node, as well as the Czech playhouse of the same name.

The FBI has become ever more frustrated in their attempts to monitor the online actvities of suspects. Their carnivore system, which was supposed to be the magic bullet in their attempts to fight crime on the internet, has become extremely high profile, causing it to become less effective as suspects have begun using other means to send their messages. Additionally, suspects have been using high powered cryptography more and more often. As a result, the FBI has found themselves unable to read the messages of these suspects, severly limiting their usefulness in investigations. Because of this, the feds have been researching ways of getting the suspects to unknowingly hand over the passwords and keys used to scramble their messages. One of the ways they are proposing to do this is through a system known as Magic Lantern.

As the FBI currently will not divulge the details of Magic Lantern, much of how it works is in the field of speculation and rumor. Allegedly, though, it works similar to such malware as Back Orifice and Sub7 in that the suspect unknowingly downloads a backdoor through an email attatchment. The program then invisibly installs itself, and hides in the background. It then goes to work surreptitiously logging the keystrokes of the suspect, hoping to gather the passwords used by the suspect to encrypt their files. These keystrokes are then retrieved by the FBI through either an email sent when the suspect connects to the internet, or simpy stored on the computer for when the FBI executes a search warrant on the suspect's property.

Once the FBI gets a hold of the keystroke logs, the suspect's encrypted files are essentially wide open. After a small amount of analysis, the FBI has the passwords used to protect the encrypted files, and can thus decrypt those files at their leisure. They can then use the information used in those files in their investigation of the suspect.

Obviously, there are severe civil rights implications caused by using this software. The FBI has asserted that need minimal judicial oversight, such as a very minimal search warrant in order to use such key-loggers, which suggests that the FBI may attempt to use this technology more often than they should. The rights of foreign intrests are also in question, as the FBI doesn't have the power to surveil persons outside the US's jurisdiction without a clear and convincing case that the US is threatened by the foreign party's actions. Additionally, due to the fact that the FBI is counting on social engineering to spread their logger, it is entirely feasible that the program could find its way onto computers not involved in an FBI investigation.

Due to the controversial nature of the software, there is a lot of discussion on the internet about this software and its implications. Groups such as the EFF, and EPIC are concerned about the civil rights implications of this technology; as the technology is so easy to send to other computers, its entirely feasible that the FBI could use this in situations where they're not authorized to. Initially, there was also concern that computer anti-virus software manufacturers, such as McAfee and Symantec, would modify their anti-virus software so that it does not detect Magic Lantern. This has caused much concern as well, because if these allegations are true, then it is entirely possible that some malicious person will design a backdoor that looks like Magic Lantern, causing the malware to go unnoticed. At the moment, though, it appears that the anti-virus vendors are not cooperating with the FBI, out of concern for the security of their customers.

Obviously, much of the controversy over Magic Lantern is over the issue of trust. As the FBI has a spotty past with abusing their powers, many people are justifiably concerned about the privacy concerns of any FBI technology. Also, such technology is rarely subject to third-party review, meaning that no one outside the Bureau is truly completely certain they know what the technology does.

As this much of the knowledge of this technology is based in rumors, there is certainly an amount of inaccuracy in any report. The FBI's currently not commenting on any inquiries into the development of the software. Though the basic information should be correct - the FBI is looking into ways of monitoring suspects' data.

If you have any suggestions or comments about this w/u, please /msg me so I can attempt to integrate your info into my writeup. As I am nearly certain new info will come out on the subject, portions of this writeup could change. Just tell me what you know on the subject, and I'll be sure to credit you with the info.

History of Magic Lantern:

Nov 30, 2001: First reports leaked on Magic Lantern. Most info unclear on whether program exists and whether antivirus manufacturers would cooperate with the FBI in deploying this program.

December 12, 2001: FBI confirms the existence of Magic Lantern. Most antivirus manufacturers have put out statements saying they will not cooperate with the FBI. Added info about possible rights violations of foreign individuals - Thanks ameoba.

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