6 months in prison for refusing to hand over a password

In Newcastle the 22-year-old computer science student Christopher Wilson was sentenced to 6 months coercive detention for not revealing the password that is required to decrypt the data on his computer. He was urged to do this in “the interests of national security”. Wilson is accused of fooling police with cyber attack warnings as well as encouraging people to post deliberately inflammatory messages on a Facebook condolence page that was set up for two killed police officers.


Wilson was already suspected to have sent rampage warning mails to the University of Newcastle. Two of these mails could be tracked back to Northumbria University where he was studying at that time. The police obtained a warrant and raided his home and seized parts of his computer equipment, but it was not possible to actually link him to these mails and prosecution was eventually dropped.

The data on Christopher Wilson’s seized laptop could not be examined by the police as they were unable to break the encryption he used. As none of the 50 passwords he provided could decrypt the data, the police officers requested legal support. A court in Newcastle eventually ordered Wilson to turn over the correct password on the grounds of national security but Wilson did not comply and is now facing 6 months in prison.