| BOSTON, June 25
BOSTON, June 25 Police can order an accused
criminal to decrypt his computer without violating his
constitutional right against self-incrimination, Massachusetts'
top court said on Wednesday.
In the latest U.S. ruling on the contentious issue, the 5-2
ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reverses a
lower court's finding that police could not force Leon Gelfgatt,
charged with mortgage fraud, to decrypt four computers seized in
an investigation, since doing so would violate his Fifth
The court found that since Gelfgatt had told investigators
that the computer belonged to him and that he had the encryption
key, police could compel him to decrypt his files.
"The Commonwealth's motion to compel decryption does not
violate the defendant's rights under the Fifth Amendment because
the defendant is only telling the government what it already
knows," according to the court's opinion.
Gelfgatt, an attorney in Marblehead, Mass., about 18 miles
(28 km) north of Boston, was indicted in 2010 for allegedly
concocting a "sophisticated scheme" to reap $13 million through
mortgage fraud, according to court documents.
State troopers seized four computers in the investigation,
all of which were protected by encryption software that Gelfgatt
refused to remove, saying "they essentially were asking for the
defendant's help in putting him in jail," according to court
In its decision, the high court did not specify if Gelfgatt
would be compelled to decrypt his computers had he not made
statements about owning the computer and having the key. That
suggests that the case is unlikely to set a precedent for future
cases, said Jessie Rossman, a staff attorney at the ACLU of
Massachusetts, which submitted a brief in support of Gelfgatt.
"The majority's opinion was very much linked to the fact of
this case," Rossman told Reuters.
Stanley Helinski, a lawyer for Gelfgatt, said there is a
lack of consensus among U.S. courts on whether compelling
defendants to provide access by decrypting files effectively
forces them to give prosecutors evidence against them.
"If you're asking the defendant to go into his brain and
access the information, then you're violating his Fifth
Amendment rights," Helinski said.
In February 2012, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in
Atlanta ruled that a defendant did not have to decrypt his hard
drive, since doing so would violate his Fifth Amendment rights.
But a federal judge in Wisconsin last spring ordered a Missouri
man to decrypt his files, after he admitted that he owned the
computer and had the key.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Osterman)