Woman Ordered to Decrypt Laptop in Bank Fraud May Have "Forgotten" Password
February 7, 2012 12:36 PM
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Ramona Fricosu's attorney says she may have forgotten the password
Last month, a Colorado woman
was ordered to decrypt her laptop
in order to help prosecutors obtain evidence in the bank fraud case against her. Now, Ramona Fricosu's attorney is saying that the defendant may have forgotten her password, further prolonging the case and getting prosecutors nowhere with the hard drive.
"It's very possible to forget passwords," said Philip Dubois, Fricosu's attorney. "It's not clear to me she was the one who set up the encryption on this drive. I don't know if she will be able to decrypt it. The government will probably say you need to put her in jail until she breaks down and does what she is ordered to do. That will create a question of fact for the judge to resolve. If she's unable to decrypt the disc, the court cannot hold her in contempt."
Davies said Fricosu has not said in any court documents that she has forgotten the password. They are waiting to see what position she takes in court.
Fricosu was accused of bank fraud in 2010, and had her laptop seized by authorities for investigative purposes. When attempting to search her hard drive, authorities found that it was
encrypted using full disk encryption
, which prevents unauthorized access to data storage. The option can be found in operating systems like Mac OS and Windows, and if authorities tried to crack it themselves, they could damage the computer.
Colorado U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn then ordered Fricosu to decrypt her hard drive and return it to the court so prosecutors could use the files against her in the bank fraud case. Fricosu tried using the Fifth Amendment to protect herself, arguing that it protects her from compelled self-incrimination.
However, Blackburn concluded that "the Fifth Amendment is not implicated by requiring production of unencrypted contents of the
Toshiba Satellite M305 laptop computer
." Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Davies backed Blackburn's decision, saying that encryption cannot be a sure way for criminals to bypass the system.
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RE: This is exactly why this is a violation of her rights
2/7/2012 2:31:39 PM
Among other things, I think one of the problems here is that our laws are not really created with the concept of citizens having free military grade encryption within easy reach.
Getting charged with disobeying an order from the court is pretty reasonable if they could show, for instance, that this woman had logged into her laptop yesterday, and every day prior for the last year (In this specific instance, given the length of time since she last logged in, forgetting is a somewhat reasonable excuse, though).
The "strictly constitutional" method you describe would be another way of handling this, that would be better from a citizen's right's perspective.
As an aside, I saw someone (I think it was on Ars) mention that they have a law in the UK that allows for someone to go to jail for up to 2 years for refusing to provide a password. That might be a reasonable middle ground.
"The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" -- Sir Arthur C. Clarke
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