Suspect who refused to decrypt hard drives released after four years – Naked Security

The contentious case of a man held in custody since 2015 for refusing to decrypt two hard drives appears to have reached a resolution of sorts after the US Court of Appeals ordered his release.

Former Philadelphia police sergeant Francis Rawls was arrested in September 2015, during which the external hard drives were seized along with other computers from his home.

Based on forensic analysis of his download habits and the testimony of his sister, the police believe they contained child abuse imagery but were unable to prove that without access to the drives.

Rawls claimed he did not know or had forgotten the passcodes while his lawyers argued that on principle forcing him to reveal these violated his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Ruled in civil contempt of court, in 2017 a second court rejected the Fifth Amendment argument.

Never formally charged with a crime, a lot seems to have hinged on whether Rawls should be treated as a suspect or a witness. If Rawls was considered a witness, the fact that he’s being asked to provide information that could be used against himself, is, in effect, self-incriminating testimony.

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