Calif. bill would ban fully encrypted smartphones

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A California lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban smartphones with unbreakable encryption.

The measure, which mirrors a recently introduced bill in New York, would require all smartphones made or sold within the state “to be capable of being decrypted and unlocked by its manufacturer or its operating system provider.”

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Sellers who don’t comply could be fined up to $2,500 per phone. The law would kick in for 2017.

Democratic assemblymember Jim Cooper, who represents tech-heavy Sacramento, is behind the bill. He argues the measure will help law enforcement better combat human trafficking and other serious criminal activities that are being conducted over hidden encrypted networks and locked devices.

“Human traffickers are using encrypted cell phones to run and conceal their criminal activities,” Cooper said in a statement.

The bill is the latest attempt by lawmakers to regulate encryption, which has been in the spotlight since the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.

Officials have said encryption likely helped the attackers hide their deadly plans in both cases.

In response, law enforcement and some lawmakers have pushed tech companies to give investigators guaranteed access to this secured data when compelled by court order.

“I support an anti-encryption policy that will restore the ability to access cell phone data by a court ordered search warrant,” Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said in support of Cooper’s bill. “If smartphones are beyond the reach of law enforcement, crimes will go unsolved.”

But the tech and privacy community have rejected these overtures. They say any type of guaranteed access to data introduces vulnerabilities that weaken encryption and expose everyday Internet activity to hackers.

Apple recently insisted it could not comply with a court order seeking encrypted iMessages, citing its unbreakable encryption system.

Some lawmakers, including Cooper, now believe government should force these companies to comply with such court orders.

“Full-disk encrypted operating systems provide criminals an invaluable tool to prey on women, children, and threaten our freedoms while making the legal process of judicial court orders, useless,” he said.

If his bill is approved and signed into law, it would likely be the first state law regulating encryption technology. New York is also considering a nearly identical bill that was introduced last week.

In Washington, D.C., Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard BurrThe Trail 2016: Hell breaks loose Burr, Ross in statistical dead heat in NC Senate race Senate panel advances spy policy bill, after House approves its own version MORE (R-N.C.) is working on a bill with his committee’s ranking member, Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinSanders tests Wasserman Schultz Sunday shows preview: Bernie soldiers on Clinton’s email troubles deepen MORE (D-Calif.), that would also mandate tech companies respond to court orders for encrypted data.