Senate chairman to DOJ: Was encryption used in San Bernardino?

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The Senate’s top homeland security lawmaker is pressing the Department of Justice (DOJ) to turn over any evidence that the San Bernardino, Calif., shooters used encryption to cover up their plans.

Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonCalifornia to allow experimental drug treatments for the terminally ill Warren to rally Wisconsin college students for Feingold Ryan optimistic about GOP majorities in House and Senate MORE (R-Wis.) on Friday opened an investigation into the incident with a fact-finding letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch. The letter was released late Monday.

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In the memo, Johnson poses 15 questions about how the suspected shooters — Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik — came to be radicalized, what U.S. authorities knew about the pair and how they acquired the guns used in the assault.

One of the questions directly addresses encrypted messages, a hot topic in the wake of the terror attacks in both Paris and San Bernardino.

“Please provide any evidence of encrypted communication retrieved from the electronic devices of Mr. Farook and Ms. Malik that may have masked specific plans and logistics regarding the December 2, 2015 attack,” the letter reads.

Several top intelligence and homeland security leaders on Capitol Hill believe it is likely encryption was employed at some stage, although investigators have yet to provide any direct evidence.

The terror attacks have also renewed calls for a bill that would force companies to decrypt data upon request.

Proponents argue such a measure is needed to help investigators uncover potential terrorist plots. Law enforcement has warned it cannot access encrypted data, even with a valid court order.

But many prominent tech companies and technologists counter that such a mandate would weaken encryption, exposing data to hackers and cyber spies as well as to government officials.