Dear Lifehacker, I have read plenty of stories on how to encrypt my files on my hard drive, but how legal is it? Can the police fine me for not giving them access to my encrypted files or am I just worrying over nothing? Thanks, Encryption Guy
Cyber lock picture from Shutterstock
Dear Encryption Guy,
Choosing to encrypt your files is perfectly legal. However, if the police require access to your protected data and you decide not to cooperate, you can expect to land in some hot water.
Here's what online rights group Electronic Frontiers Australia has to say in regards to the legalities of personal data encryption:
While encryption can be used freely within Australia, the Cybercrime Act 2001 includes provisions for law enforcement to compel the disclosure of encryption keys, passwords, and any other details necessary to obtain evidence in a protected or encrypted state.
Penalties up to and including imprisonment can be imposed if a person does not comply with such an order. This reverses the situation prior to the introduction of the Act, whereby a user could refuse to provide encryption keys necessary to decrypt data if such an act would result in incriminating one’s self.
In other words, while there's nothing stopping you from encrypting your data, it would be unwise to treat it like a get-out-of-jail-free card. That said, we're not lawyers and we imagine any potential penalties would largely depend on the circumstances — you can read up on the Cybercrime Act 2001 here.
If there are any readers with appropriate legal chops reading this, feel free to chip in with some advice for Encryption Guy in the comments section below.
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