Justice Department Says It Should Be Able To Require People To Decrypt Their Computers

from the legal-questions dept

Another big legal question is hitting the courts, as the Justice Deparment is asking a federal judge to require a woman to decrypt her encrypted laptop as part of a lawsuit against her for a mortgage scam. The government claims that forcing her to decrypt the laptop is no different than standard discovery procedures, such as requiring someone open a safe. However, others, including the EFF, are arguing on Fifth Amendment grounds, that individuals should not be compelled to decrypt such encrypted content, on the grounds that it's a form of incriminating yourself, if the content is found to be useful in prosecution. As we've discussed in the past, some courts have found that people cannot be forced to turn over their encryption key on this very basis. However, this case is slightly different, in that the government is seeking to get around such earlier rulings, by saying that it just wants to require her to type the password in herself to decrypt the laptop -- rather than demanding the key itself. However, the EFF's brief (pdf) in the case suggests that this really isn't a huge difference, and just the decryption requirement alone would be a Constitutional problem.

Filed Under: decryption, encryption, fifth amendment


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  1. icon
    nomoreredbull (profile), 13 Jul 2011 @ 2:18pm

    @ steve....good point, and I'll tell you why...

    Steve, Jul 13th, 2011 @ 10:36am
    A requirement to type in the password is contrary to the 13th Amendment (not that any of them are respected in USA anymore).

    The appropriate answer is, "All the data has been delivered, you have it right there". AFAIK there has never been a requirement for the discoveree to interpret data for the opposing party. If it were in a language they didn't understand, for example, it would be their own responsibility to find a translator.


    years ago, when after a false conviction and an appeal I requested transcripts of the proceedings of my court case, and they came alright, but were in the "symbolized' shorthand of the court stenographer, and most people don't realize this, but they all have different styles, so only the person who wrote them, would ever have a shot at decrypting them, so basically, when asked if I HAD been given a copy of the transcripts, I had to say yes, but they were unreadable, he said, that's not my fault, and eventually dismissed my case! the conviction stands!

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