Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Incriminating yourself by unlocking the safe

The Register is reporting on a case in which investigators and prosecutors in a mortgage scam case are trying to force a Colorado woman to give them the passcode to the encryption she uses on her laptop.  The EFF has become involved, and I'll be watching this case.

Basically, the question is whether, without violating the 5th Amendment to the Constitution, a person can be forced to divulge information that could lead to other information that would incriminate them.  In the past, the Supreme Court has said that a defendant cannot be forced to divulge a safe combination, so I don't see where this is different.

Encryption of media is one of the basic things that we should all be doing in this age of dense, portable storage.  A laptop, smartphone, or thumb drive could contain a huge amount of your personal data, and losing it or having it stolen can give someone else the keys to your kingdom.  If you're doing something that the government might find objectionable, encrypting your data is an absolute necessity.  If a drive is encrypted, it's damn hard to get at the information without the keys to decrypt it.

I use Truecrypt to secure my removable media, and to store things like financial documents, resumes, contacts, and such on my laptop.  In addition, I use Apple's baked-in encryption to encrypt my hard drive.  Granted, the stuff from Apple isn't great, but it's better than nothing, and if I came to the point that I had too much sensitive stuff on my laptop to manage it through encrypted directories, there are better products on the market for whole system encryption.  Oh, and don't forget to encrypt your backups.

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