surrendering one's passphrase to authorities

Mark H. Wood mwood at IUPUI.Edu
Wed Mar 4 15:02:42 CET 2009

On Tue, Mar 03, 2009 at 05:12:23PM -0500, David Shaw wrote:
> It's an odd case.  Law enforcement *knows* what is on the laptop in
> this case.  They saw it there before the computer was powered down
> (thus locking the drive).  They are arguing over whether the
> protection against self-incrimination (part of the US Bill of Rights,
> for those who don't live here) even applies - after all, if law
> enforcement already knows what is there, revealing the contents does
> not incriminate.

I don't quite grasp the nuances of whether entering a password is or
is not in itself testimony.  But one interesting aspect here is that,
until the drive is decrypted, its contents cannot become evidence, and
the government is left with only the testimony of the border control
officers as to what might be contained in the defendant's property.
If the drive cannot be examined by the court, the government's case is
somewhat weaker.  So that's one non-ulterior motive for wanting the
password entered.  It matters less, in court, what LE know, than what
they can demonstrate.

This of course does not dispose of other possible motives.

Mark H. Wood, Lead System Programmer   mwood at IUPUI.Edu
Friends don't let friends publish revisable-form documents.
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