Ex cop and child porn suspect to remain in jail until he decrypts drives

Former Cop and Child Porn Suspect Might Remain in Jail Forever for Contempt of Court.

Francis Rawls has remained in prison since 30th September 2015 for refusing to abide by the judicial order of decrypting two hard drives owned by him. These hard drives supposedly contain crucial evidence of child-porn and were confiscated from Rawls’ residence.

Rawls, who served as a cop for Philadelphia police before being sacked and imprisoned, has been jailed for about two years now and will remain behind bars until he appeals to the US Supreme Court. For two years, the former cop tried to convince lower courts that his confinement was a violation of his constitutional rights as observed under the Fifth Amendment.

According to Ars Technica, the investigation against Rawls started in 2015 at a time when the Delaware County’s criminal investigation in child porn case was underway. The investigators got a hint of involvement of Rawls in child sexual abuse case after inspecting his online activities.

The unit acquired a warrant to search the residence of Two iPhones, two external hard drives and an Apple Mac Pro were found at his residence, and a warrant was issued for examination of their content. However, Rawls refused to provide the passwords of his hard drives, which were encrypted with Apple’s FileVault. This didn’t stop digital forensics experts from identifying content that was enough to convict Rawls.

Former Cop and Child Porn Suspect Might Remain in Jail for not decrypting his hard drives
Francis Rawls

The identified content included images of a teen girl in sexually objectionable poses and data of links used to visit child exploitation websites. Further investigation revealed that Rawls had downloaded thousands of documents bearing Hash Value that was known for associated with child abuse images.

These documents couldn’t be accessed. Rawls’ sister also informed investigators that she had viewed hundreds of child sexual abuse images on the confiscated hard drives. After credible evidence was acquired, the court issued a decryption order in August 2015 to force Rawls to provide the password of devices, according to The Guardian.

One of the iPhones was unlocked by the suspect, but he refused to provide passwords of the encrypted hard drives claiming that he has forgotten their passcode. The court rejected this assertion (PDF) citing the testimony of Rawls’ sister who admitted that she had seen Rawls entering passwords from memory.

The suspect was held in contempt of court in September 2015. The decision has so far been upheld by US courts of appeals, the latest of such decision being issued on Monday when the third US Circuit Court of Appeals sustained this decision. Rawls remains imprisoned in the federal detention center, Philadelphia and will stay there until he agrees to comply with the court order.

In a brief order issued on Wednesday, US District Judge Cynthia Rufe stated that (PDF) the contempt-of-court offenses often involve indefinite prison terms and thus, Rawls will remain behind bars until he complies with the court or the Supreme Court lifts the order. Rawls’ attorney argued that in a legal nuance case the accused can be imprisoned for no more than 18 months. However, this argument was categorically refused by Justice Rufe, but she noted that the arguments of both the defendant and prosecution were “interesting and complex.”

Prosecutors state that it is absurd that Rawls’ has appealed against his confinement and requesting for bail since it is yet undecided whether forcing an individual to unlock a piece of hardware is a violation of Fifth Amendment or not. Furthermore, Rawls’ refusal to decrypt the drives claiming that he forgot the password isn’t a valid defense in such a sensitive case involving child porn. The accused has not complied with court’s order citing that the Fifth Amendment ensures protection from self-incrimination.

In a federal appeals court, it was concluded that Rawls’ case was a ‘foregone conclusion’ since it was believed that the hard drives contained content related to child porn and a forensic analysis of the computer system where the hard drives were attached revealed that the documents’ Hash values were indeed linked to child porn. However, no criminal charges have been finalized against Rawls about child porn offenses.

US government: We can jail you indefinitely for not decrypting your data

According to Keith Donoghue, suspect’s attorney and public defender, the ruling was disappointing, and he was already considering the next course of action. “The fact remains that the government has not brought charges. Our client has now been in custody for 18 months based on his assertion of his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination,” stated Donoghue.

The case has started a nationwide debate over the righteousness of right of a citizen to protect critically important information from a court of law and law enforcement citing the Fifth Amendment’s right to self-incrimination. In Rawls case, the drives are supposed to contain child sexual abuse evidence, so organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) need to think before siding with suspected pedophiles on the grounds of violation of constitutional right

Carolina

Carolina works for HackRead as a technical writer. She is a Brazilian traveller who has been to almost every country around the world. She has a keen interest in technology, gadgets and social media.