Note to self: Encrypt data, memorize password


Court rules that prosecutors can’t force people to decrypt data that could potentially be used against them.

In a case that serves as a reminder to: a) use encryption, and b) memorize the encryption pass-phrase, an appeals court has ruled that people have a constitutional right not to be forced to decrypt data that potentially includes evidence that could be used to prosecute them in court.

The Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination that prohibits authorities from forcing a suspect to reveal the combination to open a lock on a safe in an investigation also applies to the digital equivalent–data locked up with encryption, the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Northern District of Florida ruled yesterday.

Compelling a suspect to reveal the pass-phrase, in either case, would essentially be forcing testimony out of that person that could be used against him or her, the court said.

“Requiring (defendants) to use a decryption password is most certainly more akin to requiring the production of a combination because both demand the use of the contents of the mind, and the production is accompanied by the implied factual statements…that could prove to be incriminating,” the court said.

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