Judiciary chairman chides Obama over encryption

Greg Nash

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week renewed pressure on the Obama administration to develop a solution to the so-called “going dark” problem as conflict deepens over access to a terrorist's encrypted phone.

“It’s critical that we find a way that allows law enforcement to maintain its ability to execute lawful, court-authorized investigative techniques, such as warrants and wiretaps,” Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyMcConnell blames dysfunction on Dems Four states sue to stop internet transition Senate passes bill to preserve sexual assault kits MORE (R-Iowa) said Wednesday in a statement.

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Grassley’s comments come as a long-simmering dispute between the FBI and Apple has come to a head. The tech giant announced on Wednesday morning that it will oppose a court order mandating that it help authorities break into a locked iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters.

In a Tuesday letter to Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and FBI Director James Comey, Grassley criticized the administration for its failure to provide adequate answers in response to a series of letters last fall demanding information on the scope of the problem.

“Your responses to my [Questions for the Record] are woefully inadequate,” Grassley wrote. “I submitted questions that called for specific information from DOJ and the FBI about the providers that have refused to comply with court orders.”

Law enforcement officials — particularly Comey — have warned that terrorists and other criminals are using encryption technology to plot beyond the reach of surveillance.

But technology firms — particularly Apple — argue that providing any form of guaranteed access to locked communications is a breach of privacy and would undermine the overall security of the device.

“There have been people that suggest that we should have a backdoor. But the reality is if you put a backdoor in, that backdoor's for everybody, for good guys and bad guys,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a December interview with “60 Minutes.”

The debate has become increasingly tense after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. tilted public opinion towards national security.

Lawmakers have put forth opposing legislation on the issue. One bill, from Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard BurrDem groups invest big in Bayh in Ind. Senate race The Trail 2016: Fight night Poll finds races for president, Senate tight in North Carolina MORE (R-N.C.) and ranking member, Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Senators already eyeing changes to 9/11 bill after veto override WH tried to stop Intel Dems' statement on Russian hacking: report MORE (D-Calif.), would force companies to decrypt data under court order.

A bipartisan bill in the House, meanwhile, would prohibit states from passing encryption-related legislation.

Apple’s announcement that it will defy a court order related to its encryption has put new urgency behind Grassley’s requests.

“Today’s news only underscores the fact that we need to work together to find constructive solutions to the Going Dark problem,” Grassley said Wednesday.