updated 10:20 pm EST, Mon January 23, 2012
Judge says notebook data can be compelled
Colorado federal Judge Robert Blackburn on Monday set a precedent with an order requiring that a woman decrypt data on the hard drive of her Toshiba Satellite M305 notebook by February 21. The official dismissed a defense by Ramonia Fricosu's attorneys that argued it would violate the Fifth Amendment's rule against self-incrimination, CNET said. The All Writs Act of 1789, which had already been used to compel phone companies in surveillance requests, was also valid with locked down storage.
Fricosu had been accused of a mortgage fraud and is believed to have evidence proving this on the notebook. She had encrypted it with PGP Desktop, however, and frustrated investigators when she refused to provide the password. She had contended that she might incriminate herself by giving the police the tools to access her system. For those arguing against her, the password request isn't different than using a warrant to compel a suspect with a locked door to open it.
Fricosu and her attorney Phil Dubois were hoping to stay the order long enough to file an appeal with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Dubois noted that Fricosu might not even be technically capable of decrypting the notebook, in which case no amount of compulsion would work.
The case, if Fricosu either drops appeals or loses at the Supreme Court levels, could set a legal precedent for any future access to data. Encryption would then be limited to its original purpose of protecting against theft and wouldn't by itself be a tool to defend against government searches, including on mobile.