Security expert Bruch Schneier noted: “An appeals court in Minnesota has ruled that the presence of encryption software on a computer may be viewed as evidence of criminal intent. I am speechless.”
Commenters at his blog indicated that it’s not quite so simple. The actual ruling is a careful one. Here’s the key text in the actual appeals ruling “The record shows that appellant took a large number of pictures of S.M. with a digital camera, and that he would upload those pictures onto his computer soon after taking them. We find 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.”
The fact is however, that all computers on the internet have encryption software, and the encryption program on defendant’s computer, PGP, is routinely included on a large number of modern computers. It would be hard to find anyone accused of a crime, whose computer does not, on this account, increase his presumption of guilt.
If we learn anything obvious from this ruling, it’s that we should avoid the appearance of guilt by sending all our private information unencrypted over the internet where anyone can capture it. It’s reasonable for Dr. Schneier to be speechless.
Perhaps what we should really learn is that it's going to be a rocky legal system for the next thirty years. By then, judges should generally be more knowledgable about computer technology.