American citizens can be ordered to decrypt their PGP-scrambled hard drives for police to peruse for incriminating files, a federal judge in Colorado ruled today in what could become a precedent-setting case.
Judge Robert Blackburn ordered a Peyton, Colo., woman to decrypt the hard drive of a Toshiba laptop computer no later than February 21–or face the consequences including contempt of court.
Blackburn, a George W. Bush appointee, ruled that the Fifth Amendment posed no barrier to his decryption order. The Fifth Amendment says that nobody may be “compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself,” which has become known as the right to avoid self-incrimination.
“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,” Blackburn wrote in a 10-page opinion today. He said the All Writs Act, which dates back to 1789 and has been used to require telephone companies to aid in surveillance, could be invoked in forcing decryption of hard drives as well.
“I find and conclude that the Fifth Amendment is not implicated by requiring production of the unencrypted contents”
Isn’t it nice when people in silly costumes can decide for us that forcing a person to divulge personal information is in no way forcing them to bear witness against themselves.
Note to readers, always claim you forgot the password if you are ever faced with this situation. The court can stamp its feet all day long, but they will eventually have to release you without charges since they can’t compel you to do something you are unable to do.
Also, programs like TrueCrypt allow for the creation of “hidden vaults within vaults” whereby you can specify two passwords for one drive. One password will produce one set of contents, while another password will open a hidden secured section of the drive. This allows for plausible deniability in the event you are forced into providing a password for the drive. The people forcing you to produce the password can not know for certain if you gave them the regular password or the hidden password.