Feeds

Showdown over encryption password in child porn case

First of its kind ... but not the last

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

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. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Adam Afriyie MP: Smart meters are NOT so smart
Mega-costly gas 'n' 'leccy totting-up tech not worth it - Tory MP
'Blow it up': Plods pop round for chat with Commonwealth Games tweeter
You'd better not be talking about the council's housing plans
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
ONE EMAIL costs mining company $300 MEEELION
Environmental activist walks free after hoax sent share price over a cliff
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
Apple smacked with privacy sueball over Location Services
Class action launched on behalf of 100 million iPhone owners
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.