On March 20, 2017, the Third Circuit affirmed a ruling of contempt over an Appellant’s claimed inability to remember his drive-decryption passwords.
The issue in appeal was whether the Government has the right to compel owners to cooperate in the decryption of digital devices after the Government seizes those devices pursuant to a valid search warrant.
The district court found Appellant in civil contempt for refusing to comply with an order requiring him to produce several seized devices in a fully unencrypted state. Appellant contended, among others, that the order and that the order itself violated his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. However, the Court of Appeals upheld the District Court’s order and deemed that
for the purposes of the Fifth Amendment, any testimonial component of the production of decrypted devices added little or nothing to the information already obtained by the Government. The Magistrate Judge determined that any testimonial component would be a foregone conclusion.
The Court of Appeals concluded that the Magistrate judge did not err in issuing the decryption order because the order was a “necessary and appropriate means of effectuating the original search warrant”. The Fifth Amendment challenge failed since the factual findings were amply supported by the record.
For more information Francesca Giannoni-Crystal