Beware court-compelled disclosure of your encrypted computer contents

Mar 09, 2012 Beware court-compelled disclosure of your encrypted computer contents

Computer hard drive. (Image from Pacific Northwest Laboratory’s website).

Imagine having a court compel your disclosure of your computer’s encrypted data. That is antithetical to what courts should be about.

Recently, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the trial judge’s compulsion of such a disclosure. The appellate ruling was based not on an assertion that such a disclosure may never be compelled, but instead on the prosecution’s refusal to grant immunity to the holder of the password to the computer data. U.S. v. Doe, ___ F.3d ___  (11th Cir., Feb. 23, 2012).

Also recently, the Tenth Circuit found it had no jurisdiction to assert interlocutory muscle, where a federal Colorado trial judge had ordered such an encrypted date disclosure where the prosecution did in fact provide the computer owner with immunity in advance. Fricosu v. U.S., No. 12-701 (Feb. 21, 2012).

Any efforts by the prosecution to obtain contents of a suspect’s hard drive should be fought tooth and nail. 

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