Colorado Woman Ordered to Decrypt Laptop in Bank Fraud Case
January 24, 2012 9:40 AM
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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.
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RE: Send the wrong message?
1/24/2012 11:13:41 AM
This is more akin to a Judge ordering someone to act as a tour guide and point out exactly where the bodies are (in your example), or hold them in contempt of court until they do.
The authorities are allowed to search for them on their own (with a warrant and due process), that has nothing to do with the fifth amendment. They are more than welcome to attempt to decrypt the hard-drive themselves.
The fifth amendment is about not being forced to do something that could incriminate you to the crime you are accused of, through speech or other means. Providing the password to decrypt a hard-drive falls under this protection.
RE: Send the wrong message?
1/24/2012 2:46:09 PM
Just as providing them a key to your house would do the same.
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