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Former Philly Cop in Jail Until He Gives Up His Passwords

Former Philly Cop in Jail Until He Gives Up His Passwords

It’s been a year and a half since former Philadelphia police sergeant Francis Rawls was issued a court decryption order, but he has yet to provide the passwords to two encrypted hard drives. On Friday, an appeals court upheld the September 2015 decision to hold him in contempt of court, leaving Rawls locked up without charge, almost entirely in solitary confinement. The man, suspected of possessing hundreds of images of children being sexually abused in part due to his own sister’s testimony that she had seen some of them, has said he doesn’t remember the passwords; his sister disputes that, reports the Guardian. “He holds the key to his own cell,” one attorney says. Regardless, organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union argue it is Rawls’ Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself.

The AP explains the counter-argument: something called a “foregone conclusion exception” to the Fifth Amendment. What that means is because evidence of a crime exists (his sister’s testimony, provocative photos of a 6-year-old on an iPhone he did unlock, and electronic fingerprints—”hash” values—that suggest he downloaded thousands of child abuse files), his rights regarding self-incrimination aren’t being breached. The EFF and ACLU counter that prosecutors can’t show with “reasonable particularity” that it knows the images exist. Ars Technica reports that the Supreme Court has never ruled on a forced decryption issue. For now, Rawls continues to collect his police pension; he’s jailed in Manhattan as a safety measure that takes into account his years as a Philly cop.

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