Child Pornography Attorney Says Suspect Jailed Till He Provides Password

Passwords and encryption methods may be enough to keep other people out of your computers and mobile devices and far away from your personal files, but once you’ve been accused of a serious crime like possession of child pornography, these safeguards are increasingly causing issues with the government’s desire to access potentially relevant evidence.

As a sex crimes lawyer, I can tell you that the continuous technological advances that allow better security, especially in keeping personal files and documents encrypted on desktop computers and smart phones, arguably make it harder for prosecutors to prove claims against an individual accused of a crime.

Locked Up Indefinitely

In August of last year, a former Philadelphia police officer, Sgt. Rawls was ordered by a federal court to hand over two hard drives that were suspected to contain child pornography materials.

According to court documents, once Sgt. Rawls was ushered into a private room at the district attorney’s office to comply with the order, he reportedly spent most of the time staring at the computer. Sgt. Rawls claimed that he could not remember the passwords that would turn off the computer’s data encryption.

When Sgt. Rawls failed to provide the information requested, he was then taken into custody, and last May, federal prosecutors asked the federal appeals court to lock him up indefinitely until he complies with the court order. Technically, he has been detained without any charges, and is now facing punishment without being convicted of a criminal offense for failing to provide evidence to incriminate himself, which is a clear violation of his 4th and 5th amendment rights.

Legal Battles on Digital Privacy

Sgt. Rawls’ case is among the growing number of legal cases on digital privacy. In a recent high-profile case, the Justice Department attempted to force Apple to unlock an iPhone owned by the gunman behind the terrorist massacre in San Bernardino, California. Apple vehemently refused to comply, though the department apparently was able to access the phone without Apple’s assistance.

Such privacy arguments often center around an individual’s right against self-incrimination, guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. This may not always be the case, as the government can seek an Order from a judge to compel individuals to disclose information that may incriminate them.

In fact, President Obama said that law enforcement in the United States can “rifle through your underwear” when searching for suspected criminal, and a person’s digital information should not be treated differently. (Source for quote???)

Keep in mind, though, that law enforcement has become increasingly bent to compel suspects to provide sensitive information like passwords, though it is not clear whether all courts would uphold such actions. If you have been charged with a crime where digital evidence is paramount to the case, you can obtain thorough and informed legal advice from a Raleigh sex crimes attorney at Kurtz & Blum, PLLC. Protect your privacy and your Constitutional rights by contacting an attorney at Kurtz & Blum, PLLC today.


  • Feds want to keep child porn suspect locked up indefinitely until he decrypts his hard drive, Geek
  • Former Officer Is Jailed Months Without Charges, Over Encrypted Drives, The New York Times