Compelled Decryption and the Privilege Against Self-Incrimination
33 Pages Posted: 11 Oct 2018 Last revised: 9 Apr 2019
Date Written: September 12, 2018
This Essay considers the Fifth Amendment barrier to orders compelling a suspect to enter in a password to decrypt a locked phone, computer, or file. It argues that a simple rule should apply: an assertion of privilege should be sustained unless the government can independently show that the suspect knows the password. The act of entering a password is testimonial, but the only implied statement is that the suspect knows the password. When the government can prove this fact independently, the assertion is a foregone conclusion and the Fifth Amendment poses no bar to the enforcement of the order. This rule is both doctrinally correct and sensible policy. It properly reflects the distribution of government power in a digital age when nearly everyone is carrying a device that comes with an extraordinarily powerful lock.
Note: Note: The attached paper is a revised version posted September 18, 2018.
Keywords: Fifth Amendment, Encryption, Self-Incrimination, Decryption
JEL Classification: K1, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation