10:03 pm - Sunday September 14, 2014

Judge: Order to Decrypt Laptop Does Not Violate Fifth Amendment

A Colorado judge this week ordered a woman to decrypt her laptop so that law enforcement officials could use the information against her in a pending fraud case.

“I find and conclude that the Fifth Amendment is not implicated by requiring production of the unencrypted contents of the Toshiba Satellite M305 laptop computer,” Judge Robert Blackburn wrote in his decision.

Ramona Camelia Fricosu and her husband, Scott Anthony Whatcott, were indicted last year for preying on people in the Colorado Springs area who were about to lose their homes to foreclosure.

In the course of the investigation, the FBI executed search warrants on Fricosu’s home and seized her Toshiba Satellite M305 laptop, among other devices. Upon inspection, however, they discovered that the device was encrypted, barring the agents access to its contents.

Fricosu has refused to provide the password to her computer, asserting her privilege against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment.

In reaching his decision, Judge Blackburn referenced the case of Sebastien Boucher, who was arrested in December 2006 when he and his father tried to cross the Canadian border into Vermont. Border officials found child porn on his computer and confiscated the device, but when they tried to access it later, it was password-protected. By December 2007, a Vermont federal judge ruled that Boucher could not be forced to reveal his computer password and incriminate himself.

On appeal, however, a grand jury required Boucher to produce a decrypted version of his hard drive, not the password. With this workaround, constitutional rights are not violated, the jury found, because the contents of the device “are a foregone conclusion.” More

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