Lynch: DOJ won't be proposing encryption legislation

Lynch: DOJ won't be proposing encryption legislation
© Cameron Lancaster

The Justice Department will not be proposing any legislation on encryption policy amid the ongoing security debate, Attorney General Loretta Lynch indicated Wednesday.

Lynch demurred when asked by Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP anxiety grows over Trump’s Iran decision Overnight Cybersecurity: Senators eye path forward on election security bill | Facebook isn't winning over privacy advocates | New hacks target health care Paul backs Pompeo, clearing path for confirmation MORE (R-S.C.) whether her department would be willing to draft legislation to achieve its goal of preventing what Lynch earlier termed as “warrant-proof” encryption.

“I don’t think the department is at a point where we are drafting legislation here, but we are happy to work with you and others on the committee as you consider proposals,” Lynch said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on department oversight.

Graham asked her if she would support legislation that would require technology companies to have "back doors made available to the government in terrorist cases."

“We would review whatever was proposed and work with this committee or others to make sure whatever was crafted would cover the range of issues that arise,” she responded.

The ongoing dispute between Apple and the Justice Department over court demands requiring the tech company provide access to locked iPhones has given new urgency to myriad conflicting legislation on Capitol Hill.

Apple is opposing a controversial court order demanding that it write software disabling a key security component on the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook to allow the FBI to hack it.

In a separate case in New York, the Justice Department is appealing a recent decision by a Brooklyn magistrate preventing it from forcing Apple to provide access to an older model iPhone.

The cases have exposed a long-running rift between the tech community and law enforcement over access to encrypted data. Many believe that if Congress doesn’t step in, the courts could effectively set the guidelines for when the government can force companies to decrypt data upon request.

“The reason why we have focused on litigation on a case-by-case basis is because, as we’ve noted, every platform is different,” Lynch said Wednesday.

But lawmakers have yet to coalesce around any proposal.

Sens. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrSenators, ask Dr. Ronny Jackson about civil legal aid for homeless vets Senators chart path forward on election security bill Overnight Cybersecurity: Staff changes upend White House cyber team | Trump sends cyber war strategy to Congress | CIA pick to get hearing in May | Malware hits Facebook accounts MORE (R-N.C.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTrump’s CIA pick facing brutal confirmation fight This week: Senate barrels toward showdown over Pompeo Sunday Shows Preview: Emmanuel Macron talks ahead of state dinner MORE (D-Calif.) — the leaders of the Select Intelligence Committee — are working on a bill that would require companies to unlock phones under court order.

That bill has faced fierce resistance from the tech community, some influential national security leaders and tech-focused lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who argue such access would force companies to build vulnerabilities into their systems that malicious hackers would be able to exploit.

Meanwhile, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerOvernight Finance: Stocks fall hard | Trump sending delegation to China for trade talks | SEC fines Yahoo M over breach | Dodd-Frank rollback dominates banking conference Trump’s CIA pick facing brutal confirmation fight Rand's reversal advances Pompeo MORE (D-Va.) have introduced compromise legislation that would establish a commission to study how police might be able to access encrypted data without endangering Americans' privacy.

Graham on Wednesday pressed his colleagues to put forth legislation to resolve the dilemma.

“Introduce some legislation requiring the technology companies to do what you want the judges to do. I’d like to look at it,” he said. “It’s just not enough to complain. If you think these companies should be required to do this, let’s sit down and see if we can introduce legislation.

“I doubt if many people will do that,” he added.