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: No explanation?
1/24/2012 6:35:55 PM
IF the hard drive is full of child porn AND the defendant is required to display the contents THEN it is a clear case of self-incrimination.
IF the hard drive is full of puppies and kittens AND the defendant refuses to display the contents THEN it is assumed that the disk will incriminate.
If the defendant is required to hand over the laptop for the purpose of having it searched, that is permissible. It is now up to the court to conduct the search :D Further assistance in accessing the information, other than surrendering other objects needed for access, would be self-incrimination by providing testimony used for the purpose of obtaining a conviction.
The court does have the option of cloning the drive and using a supercomputer to decrypt the contents if they really need the laptop information for a conviction. The defendant can not be required (legally) to provide testimony that will assist their conviction. This assistance is requested routinely though and is occasionaly backed up by contempt of court proceedings.
The lay assumption is that if the defendant refuses to display their photos of cute little puppies and ktittens, they are admitting to be guilty of the crime they are accused of.
That may be true. But there could be other reasons. The defendant may be completely innocent of the child porn charge that is being used to justify the search and simply protecting the photos that would prove he is the serial killer the police are still searching for. This would then definitely be a 5th amendment case :P
RE: No explanation?
1/25/2012 2:29:13 PM
Try driving drunk and saying you won't take a breathalyzer test based on the 5th Amendment. Watch what happens.
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