Americans could be forced to decrypt encrypted devices for law enforcement agencies following a landmark US Federal Court ruling.
Judge Robert Blackburn ruled Ramona Fricosu must decrypt a PGP-encypted laptop following demands by US authorities, CBSnews reports.
Fricosu was accused of being involved in a mortgage scam.
Judge Blackburn found protections afforded under the US Fifth Amendment – which states a citizen cannot be forced in a criminal case “to be a witness against himself” – would not serve as a defence to prevent police from accessing potential evidence held on laptops.
Prosecutors said they required only that the device be decrypted and did not need the encryption password.
Justice Blackburn said decryption could be ordered under the All Writs Act which has previously required telcos to assist with wiretapping.
The judgment was the latest in a decade-old debate in the US over the lawfulness of forcing users to decrypt devices.
Would it work in Australia?
In Australia, users could be found in contempt of court for refusing to decrypt devices.
“Courts can give the order for users to decrypt devices containing evidence,” Rodney McKemmish, partner at PPB Advisory said.
“If they refuse to hand over the password or provide access, they can be in contempt of court.”
McKemmish, who has some two decades of experience in digital forensics, said requests to decrypt devices could be made in civil and criminal courts.
But the need to apply for a court order to force the decryption of devices could often be bypassed if a device was seized while it was turned on and in a decrypted state.
Forensics professionals could then create an image of the device for later analysis.