Courts rule for, against hard drive decryption.


A Colorado court has ordered a woman to decrypt her hard drive in a mortgage trial, while an Atlanta court has decided not to force a child abuse suspect to decrypt his hard drive because doing so would violate his Fifth Amendment rights.

The recent ruling by the Atlanta-based U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of an unnamed suspect from Florida (known as "John Doe" in court papers) goes against past U.S. court precedent where judges have determined that a person should be required to turn over hard drive passwords in a criminal investigation, according to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

Courts in Colorado and Vermont have previously held that the government can order suspects to turn over encryption passwords in certain circumstances.

In the case heard by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, the suspect allegedly refused to supply the passwords for five of his laptop hard drives and five external hard drives. His hard drives had been seized by police at the time of his arrest in a hotel room in October 2010 and encrypted using TrueCrypt, according to court documents. The police had no knowledge of what the drives may contain.

The suspect refused to supply the passwords in time for his appearance before a federal grand jury in Florida and in response to a later court order requiring him to decrypt the hard drives, the WSJ reported. A federal judge held the suspect in contempt, but the appeals court overturned this ruling.

But, in January 2012, a federal judge in Colorado ordered a woman charged with fraud to turn over decryption keys to her computer. A regional appeals court rejected her appeal, and she was ordered to decrypt the information in February.

In U.S. v. Fricosu, the court ordered Ramona Fricosu to produce an unencrypted version of her laptop's hard drive...

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