Published on January 24th, 2012 | by Kim LaCapria0
Judge Orders Defendant to Decrypt Laptop by Feb. 21, Fifth Amendment Cowers in Corner, Shaking
In a ruling Monday, Judge Robert Blackburn ruled that a Colorado woman can be compelled to decrypt her hard drive in order to provide evidence against herself in a mortgage scamming case, a decision that could have wide-reaching consequences for Fifth Amendment protections and technology.
The potentially precedent-setting ruling was handed down in regards to Ramona Fricosu, a resident of Peyton, Colorado, who is being investigated and has been charged with fraud. As Wired notes, the case has understandably drawn the attention of civil rights watchdogs, as there have been no previous rulings regarding the rights of citizens to object to electronic self-incrimination:
Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Davies said in a court filing (.pdf) that if Judge Blackburn did not rule against the woman, that would amount to “a concession to her 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.”
Although the issue has not been, up until now, tackled by the Supremes, lower courts have in the past ruled that defendants were not entitled to invoke the Fifth Amendment in order to prevent search of electronic devices- at least twice in cases of suspected trafficking of child pornography. In regards to the case, the Electronic Frontier Foundation- an organization devoted to protecting individual civil liberties, particularly pertaining to technology- has opined that the case may “be a very important case in applying Americans’ Fifth Amendment rights in the digital age.”