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Feds Decrypt Laptop of Defendant Ordered to Turn Over Hard Drive


“They must have used or found successful one of the passwords..."

In early January we first brought you the case of Ramona Fricosu, a defendant in a case for real estate fraud in Colorado, who was pleading in favor of a judge honoring her Fifth Amendment rights that would protect her against self-incrimination when prosecutors were trying to force her to decrypt a laptop they believed held evidence.

From that time to now, the federal prosecutors were granted their request by a U.S. District Court judge to force Fricosu to open the laptop; Fricosu's lawyer said there was the possibility she had forgotten the password and appealed the court decision; and, finally, the appeal was denied and a deadline set upon Fricosu to unlock the device.

Fricosu's deadline was today but she didn't decrypt the laptop -- the feds did. Wired reports that the feds have unlocked the laptop, which was legally obtained by a search warrant:

“They must have used or found successful one of the passwords the co-defendant provided them,” Fricosu’s attorney, Philip Dubois, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.


The woman and her ex-husband co-defendant, Scott Whatcott, are accused of filing fraudulent documents to obtain home titles and selling the houses without paying the mortgage. Dubois believes Whatcott supplied the password to the police.

According to Wired, Dubois has been provided with information prosecutors have gleaned from the laptop, but he said he has not yet looked at the documents. Wired also notes that this news comes at an interesting time when just last week, in a separate case, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that forcing a person to decrypt a laptop was in fact a violation of Fifth Amendment rights.

If the laptop had not been decrypted by March 1, and Fricosu had not supplied a password or unlocked it herself, she could have been held in contempt.

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