Say you’re arrested for crimes you committed, and the police is trying to access your computer in order to find incriminating evidence. There are a number of encryption softwares out there, including DataProtecto, TrueCrypt, and Cypherix, which can encrypt your computer, but can the police force you to decrypt it, so they can access it? There are many softwares out there, that enable one to access lost and stolen passwords, such as SocialPasswordFinder.
In the past few years, this question has been answered.
A pair of federal appeals court decisions, issued on February 23, clarified these questions.
- If police know what you encrypted, they can make you decrypt it
- If police don’t know what you encrypted, they can’t make you decrypt it
For example, if you admit to someone there is incriminating evidence on your computer, then the authorities can ask you to decrypt it, and it’s not in violation of the Fifth amendment. If they do not know what’s on the computer, then they cannot force you.