Refusing to Decrypt Hard Drives May Equal Indefinite Jail Time

Refusing to Decrypt Hard Drives May Equal Indefinite Jail Time

The topic of encryption is becoming more prominent in media headlines these days as consumers want to protect their privacy. But the US government does not agree with this stance as federal prosecutors propose indefinite prison for a suspect unwilling to decrypt his hard drives.

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Failure to Decrypt Could Become a Criminal Offense

Bitcoin.com_Hard Drive Decrypt US Government

One suspect who was arrested on the grounds of being involved in child pornography continues to refuse to decrypt two of his hard drives. This is not an unusual story, as citizens have no legal obligation to do so unless law enforcement officials come up with a warrant stating otherwise. However, that is not a likely scenario for the time being.

But if it is up to US federal prosecutors, that might soon change, as they seem to be getting more impatient when citizens are not heeding their calls to decrypt devices. The child porn suspect has been behind bars for seven months, yet prosecutors propose an indefinite jail sentence unless his two hard drives are decrypted.

The US government strongly feels this man — a Philadelphia police sergeant — should be left in jail until he complies. But enforcing such a sentence could prove to be rather problematic. While some people may feel this would be a violation of the Fifth Amendment right, authorities claim otherwise, as they see this as a “foregone conclusion” there is child pornography on the hard drives. Moreover, they argue their case by saying the suspect only needs to unlock the drivers and not reveal the passcodes.

What is even stranger is how the defendant is not charged with child pornography-related crimes at this time, but his refusal to decrypt the hard drives has led to him being thrown in jail. This order was given by a federal magistrate, who plans to keep the man in prison until he fully complies.

At the same time, it seems very unlikely someone can be held in jail for an extended period without being officially charged. Keith Donoghue, the attorney of this suspect, is arguing that exact point, and he has demanded the appeals court immediately release his client. So far, those pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

A report about the suspect’s arrest stated the following:

The exam also found that Freenet, the peer-to-peer file sharing program used by Doe [real name Rawls] to obtain child pornography from other users, had been installed within the virtual machine. The exam showed that Doe accessed or attempted to access more than 20,000 files with file names consistent with obvious child pornography…and that he used the external hard drives seized by Delaware County detectives to access and store the images.

This seems to be a rather shortsighted conclusion, yet the multiple layers of encryption are not working in the suspect’s favor. According to the government, Rawls entered his passcodes from memory for all of his devices, and they find it strange he suddenly cannot recall any of them when they asked him to decrypt the hard drives.

Unfortunately for the US government, they cannot simply try to brute force the passwords either, as that would get all of the evidence thrown out. In this case, they have to try and force the suspect to decrypt the drives for them, yet there are no legal grounds for them to force his hand. However, given the “snail’s pace” nature of the legal system, it may take months or years until Rawls will be charged or released.

What are your thoughts on this story? Should Rawls decrypt the hard drives and give up the fight, or should he be released? Let us know in the comments below!


Source: Ars Technica

Images courtesy of Shutterstock, Wikipedia