Magistrate’s Ruling Eases Burden for Officials Seeking Forced Disclosure of Encryption Passwords

One of the more interesting legal questions raised by digital technologies is this: Can the government compel a person to divulge the password to an encrypted computer without violating the Constitution’s protection against compelled self-incrimination? The question, which rarely arose a decade ago, is appearing with increasing frequency as full disk encryption becomes the default setting on many digital devices. Law enforcement officials, who often have good reason to believe that evidence of crime is contained on a phone or laptop, frequently find that evidence is tantalizingly just out of reach — clearly apparent in file directories but inscrutably scrambled behind a password known only to the device owner. Fears of Justice Denied Encryption technology has been on law enforcement’s mind for some time now. Back in 2014, former FBI Director James B. Comey warned that, if encryption becomes the norm on digital devices, it will seriously hamper the…

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