Woman Ordered to Decrypt Laptop Claims She "Forgot" Key

Ryan Whitwam

After being ordered to provide the decryption code for her laptop last month, a Colorado is claiming that she no-longer remembers the key. The laptop belonging to Ramona Fricosu was seized as part of a mortgage fraud case in 2010. The government has spent the last few years working to force her to decrypt the hard drive, claiming that doing so would not violate her 5th Amendment right not to incriminate herself.

“It’s very possible to forget passwords,” said Philip Dubois, attorney to Fricosu. “It’s not clear to me she was the one who set up the encryption on this drive. I don’t know if she will be able to decrypt it.” This case has been a complicated one, as the Supreme Court has never ruled on the status of digital encryption as it pertains to the 5th Amendment. Fricosu has until the end of the month to comply with the ruling, at which time she will be found in contempt if she does not.

This leaves the judge in a tough spot. Fricosu would likely be jailed for failing to comply, but there’s no definitive way to prove she still knows the encryption key. Lawyers suspect she will be jailed in an effort to force her to cave. The judge will have to decide how long to hold her, as the court cannot jail her indefinitely without proof she is withholding the key. Do you think courts should be able to force people to provide an encryption key?

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