A few years ago, we wrote about a case, in which a court found that a defendant could not
be forced to give up his encryption key for encrypted files on his computer, because that would be a violation of the 5th Amendment. The argument was that the key was a form of speech, and that speech would self-incriminate the person. However, in a new case, a judge has said that it is not
a 5th Amendment violation if a defendant is required to decrypt their laptop
, even if that laptop contains incriminating information. The difference here? The key. In the first case, the question was over whether or not the defendant had to hand over the key. In this case, there was no request for the key -- just to decrypt the hard drive. As the court saw it, this was no different than demanding a defendant hand over documents related to a case, something that obviously happens all the time. It does seem like a fine line (and perhaps a meaningless distinction if law enforcement now knows to do the latter, rather than the former). Either way, the defendant in this case, Ramona Fricosu, accused of being part of a mortgage scam, is intending to appeal. It would be interesting to see the Supreme Court eventually weigh in, but I would guess that they'll side with this particular ruling.