Passwords And The 5th Amendment
January 25, 2012 by Sam Rolley
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Blackburn ruled this week that a Colorado woman must give authorities the password to her personal computer so that police can view the files on it, according to CNET.
Ramona Fricosu has until Feb. 21 to comply with the order. The judge said Fricosu’s defense — the 5th Amendment’s right against self-incrimination — did not apply in the case. She is charged with bank fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. Rather than being protected against self-incrimination because the password is in her own mind, prosecutors have treated the situation as if she had a key to a safe containing stolen goods.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties organization, filed a brief on Fricosu’s behalf. The organization argued that Fricosu should not be compelled to give up her password because it would violate her 5th Amendment right, and there was no immunity “offered for loss of this protection.”
Federal prosecutors argued that if Fricosu was not ordered to allow prosecutors to access her computer it would result in a “concession to her and potential criminals (be it in child exploitation, national security, terrorism, financial crimes or drug trafficking cases) that encrypting all inculpatory digital evidence will serve to defeat the efforts of law enforcement officers to obtain such evidence through judicially authorized search warrants, and thus make their prosecution impossible.”