Feeds

Showdown over encryption password in child porn case

First of its kind ... but not the last

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

A bid by the US government to force a child porn suspect to surrender his encryption password has sparked fierce debate about whether the move violates constitutional protections against self-incrimination.

The case, which is reported here by The Washington Post, is likely the first time a court has waded into the issue. It almost certainly won't be the last, given the increasing use of encryption by businesses and individuals to protect reams of data stored on hard drives.

On one side of the issue are civil libertarians from such groups as the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. They argue the Fifth Amendment, which protects suspects from government demands to testify against themselves, extends to passwords because they're stored in a suspect's head.

"The last line of defense really is you holding your own password," Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney at the EFF, said.

Indeed, a magistrate judge who has already ruled in the case seemed to agree. While suspects are required to turn over physical keys to a safes, they can't be forced to reveal combination because that would "convey the contents of one's mind," and act that's tantamount to testifying, Magistrate Judge Jerome J. Niedermeier wrote in a November ruling. "If (the defendant) does know the password, he would be face with the forbidden trilemma: incriminate himself, lie under oath, or find himself in contempt of court."

Prosecutors are appealing that ruling.

On the other side of the issue are law enforcement officials, who say a precedent permitting suspects to withhold passwords would allow terrorists, pedophiles and other criminals to keep their illegal deeds off limits to police simply by encrypting them. Mark Rasch, a former federal prosecutor who is now with FTI Consulting, said that would be "dangerous".

The case concerns the investigation of Sebastien Boucher for possession of child pornography. In late 2006, the Canadian citizen with legal residency in the US was crossing the border into Vermont when a US Customs and Border Protection inspector searched his laptop. It contained files with titles such as "Two-year-old being raped during diaper change." The inspector also reviewed video files, including one that showed what appeared to be a preteen undressing and performing a sexual act.

Agents copied the contents of the Boucher's hard drive, but have been unable to access many of the files because they are encrypted by the military-grade Pretty Good Privacy program.

Boucher was arrested and charged with transportation of child pornography in interstate or foreign commerce. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison. He has denied knowingly possessing child porn. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
The 'fun-nification' of computer education – good idea?
Compulsory code schools, luvvies love it, but what about Maths and Physics?
Facebook, Apple: LADIES! Why not FREEZE your EGGS? It's on the company!
No biological clockwatching when you work in Silicon Valley
Lords take revenge on REVENGE PORN publishers
Jilted Johns and Jennies with busy fingers face two years inside
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
Ex-US Navy fighter pilot MIT prof: Drones beat humans - I should know
'Missy' Cummings on UAVs, smartcars and dying from boredom
Yes, yes, Steve Jobs. Look what I'VE done for you lately – Tim Cook
New iPhone biz baron points to Apple's (his) greatest successes
Sysadmin with EBOLA? Gartner's issued advice to debug your biz
Start hoarding cleaning supplies, analyst firm says, and assume your team will scatter
Edward who? GCHQ boss dodges Snowden topic during last speech
UK spies would rather 'walk' than do 'mass surveillance'
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.