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A now-fired Philadelphia cop has been behind bars for almost two years for refusing to decrypt hard drives that authorities found at his residence as part of a federal child-porn investigation. On Thursday, his lawyers are set to ask a federal judge to release him while he appeals the reason for his confinement to the Supreme Court.
If the justices take the case, it would be the first time they weighed the constitutionality of whether forcing somebody to decrypt hardware amounts to a Fifth Amendment violation.
The dispute concerns Francis Rawls, who has been serving an indefinite jail term after being held in contempt of court for refusing to unlock at least two FileVault-encrypted drives connected to an Apple Mac Pro. He has not been charged with any criminal offense even though the contempt order (PDF) was issued September 30, 2015.
Both a federal judge and the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals did not agree with Rawls’ contention that forcing him to unlock the drives amounted to a violation of his Fifth Amendment right against being compelled to testify against oneself.
The courts also concluded that it was a “foregone conclusion” that kid porn was on the drives because a forensic examination revealed that the “hash” values of the files have been linked by the authorities to known child pornography.
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