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Ramona Fricosu case to determine if decrypted laptop files are safe under Fifth Amendment

Darren Murph
July 12, 2011
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So far, we've pretty much decided that the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution covers those zany thoughts within your skull. But when it comes to more tangible things, it's hardly as clear. In the past, convicted persons have been forced to cough up keys to what eventually becomes evidence, and in the case of one Ramona Fricosu, the US Department of Justice is assuming that a computer passphrase is no different. But that assumption is causing shock waves throughout the tech community, as the decrypting of one's laptop files is arguably causing someone to become a "witness against himself." Of note, no one's asking that Ramona actually hand over the password per se, but even typing in the unlock code while not being watched results in effectively the same conclusion. The San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation is clearly taking a stance against the proposal, noting that this type of situation is exactly one that the Fifth was designed to protect. Only time will tell if Fricosu's offered immunity as a token for complying, but the precedents that are set here are apt to be felt for decades to come. Tap that CNET link for an in-depth report.

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