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DOJ demand decryption of laptop to investigate scam

Obama’s administration have told a federal judge to order a woman, accused of a mortgage scam in America to decrypt her laptop so they can get access to files relating to the case. This news story is hitting hard on tech sites, as it could be an integral case for future prosecutions.

The woman Ramona Fricosu from Colorado has been accused of a mortgage scam and it may have ramifications for future cases which involve data protected under encryption. Her laptop was found during a raid of her home, and it is encrypted and have proven impossible for the authorities to break to this point.

CNET said “Because Fricosu has opposed the proposal, this could turn into a precedent-setting case. No U.S. appeals court appears to have ruled on whether such an order would be legal or not under the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, which broadly protects Americans’ right to remain silent.

Obama's Administration

In a brief filed last Friday, Fricosu’s Colorado Springs-based attorney, Philip Dubois, said defendants can’t be constitutionally obligated to help the government interpret their files. “If agents execute a search warrant and find, say, a diary handwritten in code, could the target be compelled to decode, i.e., decrypt, the diary?”

Prosecutors have said that they don’t require the passphrase themselves, which means that Fricosu could enter the code herself without anyone looking at the time. They only want the decrypted data from her laptop and haven’t demanded ‘the password to the drive, either in written form or orally.”

This is a delicate case for the American authorities however as there have been law review articles over a 15 year period which have taken different sides to the approach. CNET add “Much of the discussion has been about what analogy comes closest. Prosecutors tend to view PGP passphrases as akin to someone possessing a key to a safe filled with incriminating documents. That person can, in general, be legally compelled to hand over the key. Other examples include the U.S. Supreme Court saying that defendants can be forced to provide fingerprints, blood samples, or voice recordings.

On the other hand are civil libertarians citing other Supreme Court cases that conclude Americans can’t be forced to give “compelled testimonial communications” and extending the legal shield of the Fifth Amendment to encryption passphrases. Courts already have ruled that that such protection extends to the contents of a defendant’s mind, so why shouldn’t a passphrase be shielded as well?”

Kitguru says: If she is forced to give over her encryption key, will this affect the rights of American citizens in the future in other areas as well?

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