A woman accused of a mortgage scam is proving a test case to see if it is unconstitutional for the US government to punish its citizens for refusing to disclose their encryption codes.
According to CNET, the government has a federal judge to order the defendant, Ramona Fricosu, to decrypt an encrypted laptop after she refused.
It has yet to be decided if such a demand breaks the US Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, which allows Americans to shut up if they are charged.
Fricosu’s brief, Philip Dubois, said defendants can’t be constitutionally obligated to help the government interpret their files.
The US Justice Department claims that the court order represents a simple extension of prosecutors’ long-standing ability to assemble information that could become evidence during a trial.
Failing to compel, Fricosu amounts to a concession that criminals can just encrypt files to beat coppers.
Prosecutors point out that Fricosu would be permitted to type it in and unlock the files without anyone looking over her shoulder. They only want the decrypted data and are not demanding “the password to the drive, either orally or in written form.”
Civil rights groups say that Americans can’t be forced to give “compelled testimonial communications” and want the legal shield of the Fifth Amendment to cover encryption passphrases.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation argues that the Justice Department’s request needs to be rejected because of the Fifth Amendment rights which says “no person…shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”