Key Senate bill would ban federal wiretap access to mobile devices

Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenWhat killing net neutrality means for the internet Overnight Tech: Net neutrality fight descends into trench warfare | Zuckerberg visits Ford factory | Verizon shines light on cyber espionage Franken, top Dems blast FCC over net neutrality proposal MORE (D-Ore.) introduced a bill Thursday to ban the government from requiring that tech companies guarantee access to their software and electronics.

Lawmakers and privacy advocates have criticized reports that intelligence agencies are intentionally introducing security weaknesses into devices so they can eavesdrop.

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“This bill sends a message to leaders of those agencies to stop recklessly pushing for new ways to vacuum up Americans’ private information, and instead put that effort into rebuilding public trust.”

Recently, the FBI asked Congress to update a 1994 law that required telephone companies to ensure federal officials could wiretap their users’ phone calls.

The law does not apply to modern mobile devices, allowing companies like Apple and Google to introduce encryption on smartphones they claim keeps the government out — warrant or not.

Wyden wants to keep it that way.

“Strong encryption and sound computer security is the best way to keep Americans’ data safe from hackers and foreign threats,” he said.

Wyden has been one of the Senate’s most vocal critics of the government’s surveillance programs, revealed last year by government leaker Edward Snowden.

Those revelations have destroyed Americans’ trust in law enforcement and intelligence agencies, Wyden said.

“And strong computer security can rebuild consumer trust that has been shaken by years of misstatements by intelligence agencies about mass surveillance of Americans,” he said.

Once a flaw is introduced into software or a device, that system is forever compromised, Wyden argued. Hackers have proved they will sniff out these “lawful intercept” openings and exploit them for nefarious purposes, he added.

Forbidding such government-mandated vulnerabilities “is the best way to protect our constitutional rights at a time when a person’s whole life can often be found on his or her smartphone,” Wyden said.