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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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RE: Send the wrong message?
By sigmatau on 1/24/2012 10:43:15 AM , Rating: 2
Apparently you need to read it. This is not a 5th Amendment case. Not even close. Imagine you have a safe that is really robust and hard to crack and the judge orders you to open it instead of them going through the process of cracking it. Same exact deal here. You can't hide your crimes behind a password. That is nonesense. The data is on the hard drive. The judge just asked to released the information on the hard drive. That cannot be denied using the 5th Amendment.

RE: Send the wrong message?
By Ticholo on 1/24/2012 11:09:37 AM , Rating: 2
So, there's no way they can get inside my brain and poke around for incriminating information. If a judge "asks me to release that information", it's the same thing, right?
This isn't a problem of accessibility.
A safe contains things that can be mentioned on a warrant that gives officers the right to seize it and open it, or ask me to do so. A hard-drive contains information. You can seize the hard-drive and if you can read it, that information is yours. If you can't, is it so clear that the defendant is obliged to give you access?
If he opened a safe and you found encrypted pages, should the defendant have to give up the code? (These things might/must have already happened before, so maybe there's some form of precedent)

RE: Send the wrong message?
By fic2 on 1/24/2012 12:00:24 PM , Rating: 3
The Denver Post had a story about this:

The debate, then, is about which pre-decided scenario this new situation fits into. Is a computer password like a key to a lockbox, as the government argues? Or is it akin to a combination to a safe, as Fricosu's attorneys say?
While the key is a physical thing and not protected by the Fifth Amendment, the Supreme Court has said, a combination — as the "expression of the contents of an individual's mind" — is.

RE: Send the wrong message?
By 3minence on 1/24/2012 12:52:47 PM , Rating: 3
If the litmus test is what your link describes it is then she won't have to open it. A password is exactly akin to a combination, an "expression of the contents of an individual's mind", and therefore protected under the 5th.

I don't know if I agree with it, but if that's the test, she passes.

Once computers become smart enough and passwords become verbal, the 5th will be even more applicable. Its not only the words I say but also the way I say them. Definitely an "expression of the contents of an individual's mind".

RE: Send the wrong message?
By jonmcc33 on 1/24/2012 1:13:05 PM , Rating: 3
That is the case because she needs to VERBALLY tell them what the password is. If it were merely a key, such as a USB drive, etc then that's NOT protected by the 5th Amendment. But if you have to VERBALLY give a password then that is using your knowledge to self incriminate. That's protected under the 5th Amendment.

Not sure if you understand Miranda rights either? Anything you say can and WILL be used against you.

Because of both, you have the right to completely remain silent and the burden of proof is upon the DA.

RE: Send the wrong message?
By tayb on 1/24/2012 4:11:18 PM , Rating: 2
It depends on how the safe is locked. If it is locked via a key they can get the key and force you to open it. If it is locked via a combination lock they CANNOT force you to provide the combination. This precedent has already been set.

I don't see how one could possibly correlate a password to anything but a combination lock. There is no physical key. It's an act of the mind.

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