Monday, January 23, 2012

The Fifth Amendment

A judge has ordered a Peyton, Colorado woman to furnish the password to decrypt the files on her laptop, the better to prosecute her for what's in them.

The story is in Cnet.

The suspect should negotiate for complete immunity from prosecution for any offense disclosed by decrypting the laptop. The decrypted contents of the laptop could then be used as evidence against others, but not against her (the original suspect).

If prosecutors offer her such a deal, and she refuses, then she can be charged with contempt of court and given a lengthy prison sentence.

But as it stands now, prosecutors want to have their cake and eat it, too: they want the contents of the laptop AND they want to use it as evidence against the suspect.

They can’t have both.

The fifth amendment allows a defendant to just go limp and dare the prosecutor to convict him (her).

Really, people! Have an auto-destruct password ready. C’mon! A fake password that would erase the password file and wipe it out permanently, rendering the laptop inert. A brick.

These defendants are hardly sympathetic; the current one is charged with mortgage fraud. In 2009 and 2010 there were two cases involving child pornography.

But the next victim could be Claire Wolfe, or David Codrea.

As H. L. Mencken said, "The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all."


drjim said...


Roberta X said...


Par-lous times, gennelmen, par'lous times.

Turk Turon said...

The best solution seems to be TruCrypt, which allows users to set up an outer encrypted volume and an inner encrypted volume. Depending on which password you enter, either one will open. Opening the outer volume shows a directory structure and a lot of free space with random "noise" recorded on it. But entering the password to the inner volume sends the disk head to an absolute address on the disk and starts decrypting the "noise" into a virtual disk representing the inner volume. The trick is that because even the outer volume is unaware of the existance of the inner volume, writing to the outer volume can inadvertently overwrite disk space used by the inner volume. But the idea seems pretty secure. Given access to the computer by hostile computer forensics experts, they will not even be able to show that there is any hidden content, because the inner volume just looks like wiped disk space.