Individuals use encryption to safeguard many valid and legal applications but also to hide illegal activity. Several legal cases have drawn the limits of self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment regarding providing passwords to access illegal information content,such as child pornography. The cases illustrate that certain knowledge of evidence amounts to a compelling need for access and that a subpoena for hard drive contents is more likely to succeed than requiring a witness to provide a password. Since known documents are not legally protected and biometric data can be compelled as evidence, there is no reason that known digital documents, biometric passwords, and by extension, alphanumeric passwords should not be compelled. Considering precedent and legal doctrine, individuals should resist giving law enforcement any passwords and be wary of sharing them. The question of encryption in criminal cases is under scrutiny and warrants citizens’ concern.

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Published in Bulletin of the Association for Information Science and Technology, v. 40, no. 2, p. 22-26.

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