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DOJ Won't Challenge Eleventh Circuit Decryption Ruling

By Robyn Hagan Cain on March 14, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that forced decryption is self-incrimination.

The Justice Department must have found the Atlanta-based appellate court’s ruling thoughtful and compelling, because a DOJ spokesperson confirmed on Wednesday that the Department will not appeal the ruling, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The Eleventh Circuit decision was one of two decryption rulings that grabbed headlines in February. In the case, In re Grand Jury Subpoena, the court decided that a defendant fighting child pornography charges could invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refuse to decrypt computers and hard drives seized by the government.

In Colorado, a district court reached the opposite conclusion, and ordered Ramona Fricosu to decrypt her laptop, or face contempt charges.

In both cases, the government offered the defendants limited immunity for the act of decrypting the computers, but not for the crimes that the decrypted files might reveal. The defendants, understandably, refused to play ball.

(In Fricosu's case, the issue became moot because the government finally decrypted Fricosu's laptop without her cooperation, reports Wired).

Though the Eleventh Circuit's ruling was only binding on three states, it was viewed as a setback for the government, reports The Journal.

The suspect in the Eleventh Circuit case was not using a highly-sophisticated, hard-to-find program to protect the contents of his computer; he obtained his encryption software for free online. Any number of criminals could do the same to thwart investigations.

While we would like to believe that the Justice Department had a change of heart on the decryption and self-incrimination issue, that rarely happens without the White House changing hands. So what gives, DOJ? Did the government's tech team get better at decryption, or this your attempt at reverse psychology?

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