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Passwords, Privacy and Border Security

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Tagged As: Cryptography, Foreign Affairs, Legal, and Security

A Canadian man was detained at the border, entering the United States, when customs officials searched his laptop and discovered child pornography on the hard drive. The computer was seized and turned off whereupon the cached encryption key disappeared as all things do in volatile RAM. During the subsequent court proceedings, the computer was activated whereupon the evidence was now found to be locked in an inaccessible PGP encrypted drive.

US Magistrate Judge Jerome Niedermeier ruled the defendant Boucher was not legally obligated to turnover his PGP passphrase to the prosecutor because such an action is a violation of his Fifth Amendment rights. The ruling differs from compelling a defendant to provide a physical key to a safe because a password is a transient, metaphysical concept of the mind, thus qualifying its revelation as testimony.

At its heart, the US vs. Boucher case presents several different conundrums.

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