District Court Holds that Defendant Cannot Refuse to Decrypt Hard Drive under Fifth Amendment
By Brittany Horth – Edited by Abby Lauer
U.S. v. Fricosu, No. 10-CR-00509 (D. Colo. Jan. 23, 2012)
Slip Opinion hosted by Internet Cases
Judge Robert E. Blackburn of the United States District Court for the District of Colorado granted the government’s motion to compel Ramona Camelia Fricosu to provide an unencrypted copy of her hard drive for evidentiary purposes. The court considered whether the act of producing the unencrypted hard drive was privileged and not whether the contents of the hard drive were privileged.
Judge Blackburn held that the Fifth Amendment is not implicated by requiring Fricosu to provide the government with the unencrypted contents of her laptop pursuant to a valid search warrant. He reasoned that Fricosu was not being compelled to self-incriminate because the government had already met its burden of proof by demonstrating that it knew of the location and existence of the relevant computer files and it knew that Fricosu was the sole or primary user of the laptop. Additionally, the government offered immunity to Fricosu, under which it could not use her production of the unencrypted contents against her. The production of the unencrypted hard drive could thus not be incriminating in and of itself.
Time Techland provides a brief overview of the case. Internet Cases features a concise analysis of Judge Blackburn’s reasoning. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, who filed an amicus brief in the case, criticizes the court for “dodg[ing] the question of whether requiring Fricosu to type a passphrase into the laptop would violate the Fifth Amendment” and failing to recognize the potential testimonial value of the encrypted data. CNet News summarizes the long-debated issue of whether a defendant can legally be compelled to decrypt his or her computer files as well as the likelihood that the debate will continue. (more…)