Judge Robert Blackburn (photo) of the U.S. District Court of Colorado ruled on Monday that a defendant must decrypt her laptop computer so that prosecutors can open the files containing data they need to complete building their case against her.
On May 14, 2010, the federal government executed search warrants at the home of Ramona Fricosu in Peyton, Colorado, looking for evidence in a case involving bank fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering as part of a real estate scam in which she and a partner were allegedly involved. During the search they removed a laptop computer which was encrypted with PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) software. When attempts by the government to open the files failed, they asked her to open the files for them. Following advice from her attorney, Phil DuBois, she turned them down, claiming protection under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.
DuBois says that the final deposition of the case will have a major impact on individual privacy in the digital age: The defendant can’t be obligated to help the government interpret those files which could be used against her in court.
Prosecutors, on the other hand, say that inability to obtain data from encrypted files would “harm the public interest” by allowing potential criminals to hide evidence that would defeat their efforts to prosecute them.
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