Interesting events in a case involving an encrypted hard drive:
A federal magistrate is reversing course and ordering a Wisconsin man suspected of possessing child pornography to decrypt hard drives the authorities seized from his residence.
The development comes as a month after the same magistrate thwarted prosecutors’ demandsthat Jeffrey Feldman unlock drives they believe contain child pornography.
Decryption orders are rare, but are likely to become more commonplace as the public slowly embraces a technology that comes standard even on Apple computers. The orders have never squarely been addressed by the Supreme Court, despite varying opinions in the lower courts.
Just last month, U.S. Magistrate William Callahan Jr. said the Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination protected even those suspected of unsavory crimes, but added that “this is a close call.”
But prosecutors convinced Callahan to change his mind. Among other reasons, the authorities were able, on their own, to decrypt one drive from Feldman’s “storage system” and discovered more than 700,000 files, some of “which constitute child pornography,” the magistrate said.
When he ruled against the government last month, the magistrate said the authorities did not have enough evidence linking Feldman to the data, and that forcing the computer scientist to unlock it would be tantamount to forcing him to confess that it was his. But that theory is now out the door, because the data on the decrypted drive contains pictures and financial information linking Feldman to the “storage system,” the magistrate said last week.
“Such being the case, the government has now persuaded me that it is a ‘foregone conclusion’ that Feldman has access to and control over the subject encrypted storage devices. Thus, under the current state of the law as more particularly discussed in the court’s April 19 Decision and Order, Fifth Amendment protection is no longer available to Feldman with respect to the contents of the encrypted storage devices.”
How is this any different than me having a locked super-secure safe in my house, after the Cops have shown up with a warrant? They can't force me to open that safe, can they? They can ask for the key/combination, I can tell them I lost it, and it's on them to find a way in.
The authorities know the hard drive is his, they know it is encrypted, how can he be compelled to "unlock" it for him, and not violate the Fifth Amendment?