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Colorado U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn said the Fifth Amendment does not protect her from the order

A Colorado woman was told to decrypt her laptop in court on Monday in order to aid prosecutors in her bank fraud case.

Ramona Fricosu, the defendant who was accused of bank fraud in 2010, had her laptop seized by authorities during the investigation. However, authorities stumbled upon a big problem while attempting to search her hard drive -- it was encrypted.

Full disk encryption, which prevents unauthorized access to data storage, is an option found in operating systems like Mac OS and Windows. The encryption can take decades to break, and if authorities tried to crack it, it could damage the computer.

That's why Colorado U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn ordered that Fricosu decrypt her hard drive and return it to the court so prosecutors can use her files against her in the bank fraud case.

Fricosu used the Fifth Amendment to protect herself. She argued that the Fifth Amendment protects her from compelled self-incrimination, and that the judge's order violates this. However, Blackburn didn't agree.

"I conclude that the Fifth Amendment is not implicated by requiring production of unencrypted contents of the Toshiba Satellite M305 laptop computer," said Blackburn.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Davies backed Blackburn's order, saying that allowing encrypted content to defeat authorities would send the wrong message to other criminals. In her words exactly, it would be a "concession to her [Fricosu] and potential criminals (be it in child exploitation, national security, terrorism, financial crimes or drug trafficking cases) that encrypting all inculpatory digital evidence will serve to defeat the efforts of law enforcement officers to obtain such evidence through judicially authorized search warrants, and thus make their prosecution impossible."

Blackburn has ordered Fricosu to return the unencrypted hard drive by February 21. Civil rights groups are keeping a close eye on the case.

Sources: Wired, Fox News

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Like a lock in the real world?
By twhittet on 1/24/2012 10:25:04 AM , Rating: 2
If I had a house, or a briefcase with evidence in it, and it was locked, I would assume a judge could order me to open it (as long as they had a warrant).

I also assume if I refused, the judge could hold me in contempt or some other lesser charge.

The problem here is that typically locks can be broken, and houses, briefcases, safes, etc. cracked. If encryption is uncrackable, do they keep the same lesser punishment? Or does the punishment go up?

I do think she could be held in contempt or something similar in this case, but, under our current laws, see no reason for her to be held on any higher charge that would lead to any significant jailtime.

RE: Like a lock in the real world?
By Flunk on 1/24/2012 12:19:42 PM , Rating: 2
It's not uncrackable, it's just a big pain to crack. Once law enforcement wises up to this they won't have a big problem. The only issue is paying for the huge supercomputer they'll need to do it.

RE: Like a lock in the real world?
By twhittet on 1/24/2012 1:47:54 PM , Rating: 2
Depending on the encryption. Then justice will become even more based on cost/benefit ratio. Plenty of money is already wasted/spent on chasing and prosecuting, and penalizing criminals for petty crimes.

There are also some encryptions that are nearly "uncrackable" for a number of years to come.

RE: Like a lock in the real world?
By Schrag4 on 1/24/2012 1:42:44 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, exactly like a lock in the real world. And just like a lock in the real world, this encryption can be broken (although it would take a long time). If someone was hiding bodies in a storage unit, the police wouldn't expect him to give up the key, they would simply break the lock if they had a warrant to search the unit. If they have a warrant to search the laptop, they should simply break the encryption. Why should it be up to the defendant to incriminate herself by letting them in?

Look, we all think she's probably guilty, but what if you were the defendant and you were innocent? If your answer is "...then I'd have nothing to hide..." then you fail. I'm not saying you should never give up info as an innocent suspect, as sometimes info you provide early on can incriminate the true criminal or exhonerate you in some other way. I'm just saying you shouldn't have to, because you never know how that info will be misconstrued to work against you. That's kinda the whole point here...

By YashBudini on 1/25/2012 3:59:22 PM , Rating: 2
The problem here is that typically locks can be broken, and houses, briefcases, safes, etc. cracked.

Suppose we stayed in the real world. Your residence is a building that used to be a bank, with a safe the size of a walk in closet. They have a warrant and you don't provide the physical key. What happens? You plead the 5th? Now suppose the lock is a combination lock, what happens then?

"If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion." -- Scientology founder L. Ron. Hubbard

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