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News Link • Hacking, Cyber Security

Here’s a Good Reason to Encrypt Your Data

• David Kravets via

There’s many reasons to password-protect — or encrypt — one’s digital data. Foremost among them is to protect it during a security breach.

Another top reason is to keep the government out of your hard drive.

The issue is front and center as a federal magistrate is refusing to order a Wisconsin computer scientist to decrypt his data that the authorities seized from kiddie-porn suspect Jeffrey Feldman. The reason is simple: The Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination protects even those suspected of unsavory crimes, according to U.S. Magistrate William Callahan Jr. of Wisconsin, who wrote:

This is a close call, but I conclude that Feldman’s act of production, which would necessarily require his using a password of some type to decrypt the storage device, would be tantamount to telling the government something it does not already know with ‘reasonably particularity’—namely, that Feldman has personal access to and control over the encrypted storage devices. Accordingly, in my opinion, Fifth Amendment protection is available to Feldman. Stated another way, ordering Feldman to decrypt the storage devices would be in violation of his Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination. (.pdf)

Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, stressed that the decision was important, and not because it might hinder a kiddie-porn prosecution.

“This isn’t just about child porn. It’s about anything on your computer that prosecutors or government officials may want,” he said in a telephone interview.

Federal prosecutors did not immediately respond for comment, but said in court papers they have spent months trying to decrypt the data.

“The FBI is performing admirable in the digital arms race between those seeking to hide evidence of their wrongdoing through encryption and law enforcement officers seeking to uncover that evidence; but the expense in time and resources in investigating cases like this one is beginning to inhibit the provision of justice,” the government said (.pdf)  in seeking the magistrate to compel the suspect to unlock the data.

2 Comments in Response to

Comment by Ed Price
Entered on:

Are you running Windows XP Home Edition? Do you have it passworded with the standard Windows login screen? If you think your data is safe from prying eyes, you are mistaken.

If a data thief downloads Slacko Puppy from, and burns himself an Operating System disk or USB drive, he has your data... if it is not encrypted, that is.

With the above Slacko Puppy OS, a thief can start your computer off that drive, and completely bypass your login password, and steal all your data. And there are other, small Operating Systems that can do the same.

Microsoft knew this could be done years ago, long before they created the XP system. But do you know what Microsoft didn't do? They didn't add an encryption option right in the Operating System package that they offered to the general public. At least, I haven't been able to find it on my system.

I haven't examined later versions of Windows, but it wouldn't surprise me if Windows 8 - the latest version - did NOT have, as part of the standard package, a method for encrypting the whole hard drive, or at least some part of it.

Your data is not safe from prying eyes.

Comment by Ed Price
Entered on:

Decrypt the computer? Didn't they have enough evidence to convict without the computer? If they didn't, they shouldn't have even taken the computer in the first place.

Get those bastard Constitution breakers off our private property and out of our lives.

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