Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Tuesday encouraged lawmakers to draft encryption legislation that would bring all sides to the table.
“If we are to grapple with this problem, I think that smart people can solve the problem, but we have to ensure all the stakeholders are represented in that discussion,” Johnson told the Senate Homeland Security Committee at a hearing on his agency's budget.
The FBI and law enforcement officials have warned that criminals and terrorists are increasingly using encrypted communications to “go dark” and hide from authorities. They have pushed for tech companies to give investigators some form of guaranteed access to this secure data.
But the tech community has resisted, arguing that unbreakable encryption is essential to maintaining global digital security and ensure online privacy.
In the wake of the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., Congress has increasingly inserted itself into the debate. Apple’s recent defiance of an FBI court order seeking help to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters has only led to more lawmakers calling for a legislative solution.
While some in Congress want to move a bill that would guarantee law enforcement could force companies to help unlock secure devices, others believe Capitol Hill has no business regulating tech companies' encryption standards.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Sen. Mark WarnerMark WarnerIT modernization bill reintroduced in Congress Want to grow the economy? Make student loan repayment assistance tax-free. Overnight Cybersecurity: DNC hackers also targeted French presidential candidate | Ex-acting AG Yates to testify at Senate Russia hearing MORE (D-Va.) are pushing a third option. Their bill would establish a national commission to explore how law enforcement could get at secure data without infringing on people's privacy rights.
Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonTrump signs executive order creating new VA office Trump tax plan prompts GOP fears about deficit Lawmakers targeted as district politics shift MORE (R-Wis.) has said he will support the McCaul-Warner bill.
Johnson’s comments appeared to align with the concept of the McCaul-Warner commission, although he did not specifically mention the legislation.
He told senators that any encryption bill must include input “from the tech sector, from the intelligence community and from the law enforcement community, federal and state.”
While Johnson’s remarks on legislation struck a middle ground, the Homeland Security chief said he sided with law enforcement in the Apple-FBI standoff.
He also insisted that “there needs to be a readjustment in the pendulum.”
“In response to the demands of the marketplace, the tech sector has gone a long way toward encryption,” he said. “But it has, in fact, created a situation where crime and potential terrorist plotting is harder to detect.”
“So I, and others, do agree that there needs to be a recalibration,” he said.