Fraudster Ordered by Court to Decrypt Laptop

In a case that may set a controversial precedent, a woman accused of financial fraud was ordered by a court to provide the prosecution incriminatory data stored on her encrypted laptop computer.


According to Wired, Colorado U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn ruled that the Fifth Amendement is “not implicated by requiring production of the unencrypted contents of the Toshiba Satellite M305 laptop computer.”

The Fifth Amendment gives citizens the right to avoid self-incrimination, and some consider that by giving up her password, the woman is testifying against herself, but the judge didn’t agree and gave the suspect until February 21 to comply with his ruling. 

Blackburn stated that “the government SHALL BE precluded from using Ms. Fricosu’s act of production of the unencrypted contents of the computer’s hard drive against her in any prosecution.”

This comes after the prosecution recorded a phone call between Ramona Fricosu, the defendant, and her husband, a co-defendant in the case. During the call, the woman hinted that there may be evidence against her on the laptop protected by PGP Desktop encryption software.

Back in 2010, when the accused and her husband were indicted by US authorities, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EEF) urged a federal court in Colorado not to force the suspect to enter the password to the encrypted device since such an act would violate the privileges offered by the Fifth Amendment.

“Decrypting the data on the laptop can be, in and of itself, a testimonial act -- revealing control over a computer and the files on it,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann back in 2010.

“Ordering the defendant to enter an encryption password puts her in the situation the Fifth Amendment was designed to prevent: having to choose between incriminating herself, lying under oath, or risking contempt of court.”

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