Just when you thought that the state of the law with regards to the Internet couldn’t get any more convoluted, a Minnesota appeals court has held that a defendant’s use of the PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) program can be admitted as evidence against someone accused of Internet wrongdoing.
The case at issue involved a man who was convicted of child pornography – specifically of taking pornographic pictures of a 9-year old – but as wrong as that is, the use of the mere presence of the PGP program on the defendant’s computer as evidence of his wrongdoing is disturbing. Indeed, according to news reports there is no indication that any of the files were actually encrypted, only that the encryption program was present on the defendant’s hard drive. Still, the court found that “evidence of appellant’s Internet use and the existence of an encryption program on his computer was at least somewhat relevant to the state’s case against him,” in ruling that the lower court was within its authority to allow evidence of the presence of PGP on the defendant’s computer to be admitted against him.
Also of note is the fact that the defendant’s search history, as recorded in his browser, was admitted against him. The searches were for the term “Lolitas”.
Now, it is also true that child pornography is a horrible crime, and in this case the victim testified, and they had the illicit pictures as evidence. But that doesn’t change the fact that the mere presence of an encryption program was allowed to be used against the defendant in the state’s case against him, as was his web browser search history.
Think about that the next time you do a web search, or encrypt a file.