On Nov. 29, Magistrate Judge Jerome J. Niedermeier ruled that compelling Sebastien Boucher, a 30-year-old drywall installer who lives in Vermont, to enter his password into his laptop would violate his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. “If Boucher does know the password, he would be faced with the forbidden trilemma: incriminate himself, lie under oath, or find himself in contempt of court,” the judge said.
The government has appealed, and the case is being investigated by a grand jury, said Boucher’s attorney, James Boudreau of Boston. He said it would be “inappropriate” to comment while the case is pending. Justice Department officials also declined to comment.
But the ruling has caused controversy.
“The consequence of this decision being upheld is that the government would have to find other methods to get this information,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “But that’s as it should be. That’s what the Fifth Amendment is intended to protect.”
Mark D. Rasch, a privacy and technology expert with FTI Consulting and a former federal prosecutor, said the ruling was “dangerous” for law enforcement. “If it stands, it means that if you encrypt your documents, the government cannot force you to decrypt them,” he said. “So you’re going to see drug dealers and pedophiles encrypting their documents, secure in the knowledge that the police can’t get at them.”
See earlier The Power of Inconvenience