Defendant cites Fifth Amendment in refusing to give laptop password to prosecutors
A Colorado woman facing charges of making fraudulent real estate transactions has been asked to unlock an encrypted laptop that was recovered from her bedroom in a police raid. The woman, Ramona Fricosu, refused, and filed a brief through her attorney that explained her decision by asking: "If agents execute a search warrant and find, say, a diary handwritten in code, could the target be compelled to decode, i.e., decrypt, the diary?"
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, such a request violates Fricosu's Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. EFF senior staff attorney Marcia Hofmann observed that "decrypting the data on the laptop can be, in and of itself, a testimonial act--revealing control over a computer and the files on it." For its part, the U.S. Justice Department sees the requested court order as simply facilitating the assembling of information that could be used as evidence. Prosecutors also said that Fricosu would be allowed to type her password to unlock the files, without having to disclose the password itself.
Whatever the outcome, the repercussions of this case will be far-reaching, given the wide-spread availability of full disk encryption software and the increasing number of storage devices with built-in encryption.
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