A US judge has told a woman accused of bank fraud that she had to decrypt her laptop so that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict her.
Colorado woman Ramona Fricosu had unsuccessfully argued that being forced to do so violates the Fifth Amendment’s protection against compelled self-incrimination.
But the beak was not having any of it. Colorado US District Judge Robert Blackburn ruled the Fifth Amendment is not implicated by requiring production of the unencrypted contents of the Toshiba Satellite M305 laptop computer.
Civil rights groups are watching the case closely because the matter has never been squarely ruled upon by the Supreme Court.
The government had said that there was no Fifth Amendment breach, and that it might “require significant resources and may harm the subject computer” if the authorities tried to crack it.
Assistant US Attorney Patricia Davies told the court that if he did not agree with the government then that would amount to “a concession to her and potential criminals that encrypting all digital evidence will defeat the police.
A similar case involving child pornography ended with a Vermont federal judge ordering the defendant to decrypt the hard drive of his laptop. In that case, though, the US border agents already knew there was child porn on the computer because they saw it while the computer was running during a 2006 routine stop along the Canadian border.
In this case there was evidence that the laptop might contain information the authorities were seeking.
He told Fricosu to surrender an unencrypted hard drive by February 21.