Lawmakers introduce compromise encryption bill

Lawmakers introduce compromise encryption bill

A bipartisan pair of lawmakers on Monday introduced legislation to establish a national commission exploring how police can get at encrypted data without endangering Americans’ privacy.


The measure, from House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerLawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology Mueller indictment reveals sophisticated Russian manipulation effort GOP cautious, Dems strident in reaction to new indictments MORE (D-Va.), comes as Apple is fiercely opposing a court order requiring it to help the FBI unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters.

“The challenge of protecting national security and digital security simultaneously is complex. The ongoing Apple vs. FBI dispute is only a symptom of a much larger problem. But we are almost certain to see this scenario repeated unless the larger issue is addressed,” McCaul said in a Monday statement.

The bill is intended to cut through the heated rhetoric that has defined the encryption debate in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.

The FBI and law enforcement officials have warned that extremists are increasingly using encrypted platforms to “go dark” and hide their plans from authorities. They are calling on tech companies to provide investigators with guaranteed access to secure data.

But the tech industry and privacy advocates have resisted. They insist such guarantees would create “backdoors,” or security vulnerabilities, that hackers and spies could exploit.

The McCaul-Warner commission would consist of 16 members, including tech industry executives, privacy advocates, cryptologists, law enforcement officials and members of the intelligence community.

Modeled after the 9/11 Commission, the group would have six months to create an interim report, and a year to deliver its full findings. Its scope would expand beyond encryption, exploring more broadly how authorities can maintain security with the proliferation of modern technology.

The bill has drawn a broad bipartisan group of co-sponsors that includes Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe siren of Baton Rouge Senate confirms John Demers to head DOJ national security division Senate rejects bipartisan measure as immigration votes begin MORE (R-CO), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Tech: Judge blocks AT&T request for DOJ communications | Facebook VP apologizes for tweets about Mueller probe | Tech wants Treasury to fight EU tax proposal Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand FCC to officially rescind net neutrality rules on Thursday MORE (R-Maine), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetColorado senators pitch immigration compromise Colorado senators mark Olympics with Senate hallway curling GOP Senate candidate fundraising lags behind Dems in key races MORE (D-Colo.), Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoAt least Alzheimer’s research is bringing Washington together Overnight Tech: Intel chief says 'no doubt' Russia will meddle in midterms | Dems press FCC over net neutrality comments | Bill aims to bridge rural-urban digital divide | FCC to review rules on children's TV Senators offer bill to close rural-urban internet divide MORE (R-W.Va.), Angus KingAngus Stanley KingLawmakers are failing in duty to respond to the American people Congress fails miserably: For Asian-Americans, immigration proposals are personal attacks GOP senators float fallback plan to protect Dreamers MORE (I-Maine) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThe siren of Baton Rouge Big Republican missteps needed for Democrats to win in November What to watch for in the Senate immigration votes MORE (R-Nev.), as well as a further 15 lawmakers in the House.

McCaul and Warner’s offering is one of several pieces of encryption legislation circulating both chambers, some of which support the FBI’s position and some of which support the stance of technologists and privacy advocates.

The commission is seen as a compromise measure and has arguably drawn the most support of the various offerings.

The bill’s backers have been bullish on its prospects, even going so far as to suggest it will get White House support. The administration has been mostly mum on the subject of encryption since backing away from supporting any legislative proposal last fall — although it is expected to announce an updated policy in light of the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., and Paris.

The technology community was quick to offer their support to the offering.

“The significant risk associated with this issue demands a thoughtful and deliberate response,” said Mark MacCarthy, Senior Vice President of Public Policy at the Software and Information Industry Association.

“Without a thorough and informed examination of the threats, Congress must avoid legislating new technology requirements — requirements that could ultimately harm national security more than help,” he said.