Your Encryption Key Is Protected By The Constitution?

from the can't-incriminate-yourself dept

In an interesting case up in Vermont, a federal judge has ruled that someone accused of a crime cannot be forced to reveal his or her encryption key, as it would be a violation of the Constitution's 5th Amendment, saying that an individual cannot be forced to self-incriminate. In an age where encryption is becoming increasingly popular, expect to see other cases of this nature. It seems likely that a case like this one (if not this one itself) will eventually wind up before the Supreme Court to determine whether or not someone can be forced to give up his own encryption key. Where it gets tricky is the question of whether or not the key itself incriminates the person. As the article notes, a person can be forced to give up a key to a safe that contains incriminating evidence, which many say is analogous to this situation. In the meantime, though, we've already seen cases where people are presumed guilty just because their computers have encryption software installed -- so, it may not matter whether or not the key is provided when the presence of PGP alone is viewed as incriminating.

Filed Under: constitution, encryption, encryption key, fifth amendment, pgp


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  1. identicon
    Cynic, 17 Dec 2007 @ 11:29am

    I find it ironic that I think of myself as a conservative, (at least I voted that way for a couple decades) but of late have had to vote with the other US party because I am trying to "conserve" what makes this country special (to me at least). When I was young, a long time ago, both sides of the aisle seemed to feel the rule of law and justice was important (variances in that belief did not seem to line up with party, at least). So I voted over things that were matters of opinion and gave my support to those who seemed to agree. Now it seems I am having to throw my weight on the side of the Bill of Rights while other important issues (like my children's and grandchildren's economic future) get less attention. I applaud the judge for their decision, and BTR1701's insightful understanding that in the US it is a long standing precedent that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty by the state.

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