Catherine Forsythe

Catherine Forsythe
know a bit about computer security, dogs, horses, skiing, medicine and making risotto. My nickname in real life/online is "Noggie" - I'm on Twitter, with the @dogreader account.

JANUARY 24, 2012 3:35PM

For Now, The Fifth Amendment Does Not Apply to Hard Drives

Rate: 18 Flag


 Part of the Fifth Amendment reads as follows:

"...  nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself".

The question arises whether private, secured information on an encrypted laptop is self incriminating evidence. A defendant in an alleged mortgage scam case had a laptop encrypted with PGP Desktop, which is a Symantec security application.

Federal Judge Robert Blackburn ordered the defendant to disclose the encryption password:

"...  "I find and conclude that the Fifth Amendment is not implicated by requiring production of the unencrypted contents of the Toshiba Satellite M305 laptop computer," the judge said in his ruling Tuesday..."

link:   Judge orders woman to give up password to hard drive

Theoretically, with enough computer power and time, an encryption program can be broken. However, it may be argued on appeal and to a higher court, that a hard drive is a private and self incriminating. Disclosure of hard drive protected information may be more damaging criminally than contravening the order to reveal the encryption password.

It will be necessary for a court of law to determine what is the relationship between a computer owner and a hard drive. Is that information private and legally protected?

Catherine Forsythe

some additional links

Judge orders defendant to decrypt laptop

Judge: Americans can be forced to decrypt their laptops 

Judge rules suspect must unlock her computer

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
Haven't seen you in a while. Hope all is well. Nice to see you.
A **wave** to Bea!

Sometimes work interferes with online activities. Thanks for dropping by!
hard drives?
No eat hard
drives at all
eat collards
a dental student
coping with a woman
gagging, weeping
her husband
willing to eat collard greens
if threatened
I am gadget id-
iot and idiots
have fat lap
no offense
no comment
no know digit
Thank you
Something to think about. I do so much on the computer, it's kind of become an extension of myself. Thanks for posting!
I sometimes relate an old diary to a hard drive. Somehow people got to read those and they some how end up getting into our hard drives which is essentially the thoughts of our mind.
I'm confused by the terminology. The order relates to unencrypted contents on an encrypted hard drive. I'm not a techie, so this may be clear to others, but to me it's like talking about a married bachelor.
What if the encrypted laptop contains child pornography, or proof that its owner planned a murder, or communications with al-Qaeda? Maybe I'm missing something, but I see it the same way I would view a file cabinet which is locked.
Wait, you can encrypt stuff now?

Wow, technology!!

~wanders off to play his Atari 2600~
Wow. Thanks for this, also, good seeing you!
fascinating and i see the complications, as well r.
What Bea said. In a way, I agree with the court, but that's without much thought beyond that I hope the mortgage cheater gets got.
Your posts always make me think and always bring me something new to consider! I do SO much on my computer! (all of it legal and terribly boring) Fascinating new wrinkles to address! THANK you! r
Now this was inevitable, wasn't it? sheeez, what a mess we've gotten ourselves into now, Ollie.
This will be a tough one, that likely will extend to countries beyond the United States.
Thanks for this Catherine-style piece. It is always good to see you. R
Fascinating. I expect this will be argued in court for a long time.
Actually Catherine it applies to all documents in any form. If you are ever served with a subpoena it the duces tecum (bring the documents) variety the 5th amendment is not applicable. In a wonderful story Jessica Mitford was called before the California equivalent of the McCarthy hearings. Since she was served with a subpoena duces tecum she could not take shelter in the 5th in that regard. But she had the committee in such paroxysms of laughter she was excused and managed to slip out before they discovered they forgot to ask for the documents. There is a Utube interview of her by the late Christopher Hitches that tells part of the story. Google it. It's a delight. It's told in more depth in "Hons and Rebels." It's well-settled law.