Senate Intel encryption bill could come next week

Senate Intel encryption bill could come next week
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The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says a bill to give law enforcement access to encrypted data could come as early as next week.

“I’m hopeful,” Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrLawmakers grapple with warrantless wiretapping program Facebook under fire over Russian ads in election 5 senators call for US to shutter embassy in Havana MORE (R-N.C.) told The Hill before a Wednesday vote.

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The long-awaited bill — in the works since last fall’s terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. — is expected to force companies to comply with court orders seeking locked communications.

The FBI and law enforcement have long warned that encryption is making it more difficult to uncover criminal and terrorist plots.

Burr, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been drafting legislation to address the issue with Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDems call for action against Cassidy-Graham ObamaCare repeal Feinstein pushes back on Trump’s N. Korea policy Feinstein on reelection bid: ‘We will see’ MORE (D-Calif.), the committee’s ranking member.

Feinstein told The Hill she passed the text along earlier this week to White House chief of staff Denis McDonoughDenis McDonoughDNC chairman to teach at Brown University Trump mocked Obama for three chiefs of staff in three years Former Obama UN ambassador to meet with Senate Intelligence panel: report MORE.

“My hope is since I was the one that gave it to Denis McDonough, they will take a look at it and let us know what they think,” she said.

The Obama administration’s response will determine the bill’s timing, Burr added.

The introduction “depends on how fast the White House gets back to us,” he said.

The White House last fall decided to back away from supporting similar legislative options, leading many to believe the administration will not champion the Burr-Feinstein effort.

The Senate is scheduled to recess the last two weeks of March, meaning Burr and Feinstein have until March 19 to release their offering before the upper chamber breaks until April 4.

Burr pegged it as “an outside chance” the bill would be released before that break.

The measure is intended to address the so-called going dark phenomenon, in which terrorists and criminals use encryption to hide from law enforcement.

In response, law enforcement officials have pushed for some type of guaranteed access to these secured conversations.

But the tech community and privacy advocates have resisted, arguing that such access would cripple global digital security and infringe on civil liberties.

These disagreements were thrust into the spotlight last month when Apple rebuffed a court order asking the tech giant to help unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.

The contentious standoff could make the Burr-Feinstein bill the most controversial salvo in a heated Capitol Hill debate over whether and how Congress should act.

While lawmakers, such as Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSenate's defense authorization would set cyber doctrine Senate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions MORE (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Tom CottonTom CottonOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Lawmakers grapple with warrantless wiretapping program Senate passes 0B defense bill MORE (R-Ark.), have vocally backed the Burr-Feinstein efforts, a bipartisan contingent of lawmakers believe regulating encryption standards would not only weaken security, but also damage America’s economic competitiveness.

A third group has concluded the issue is too complicated to go with either approach and is backing a compromise bill to establish a national commission that would study the subject.

That measure, from House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerOvernight Cybersecurity: Equifax hit by earlier hack | What to know about Kaspersky controversy | Officials review EU-US privacy pact Overnight Tech: Equifax hit by earlier undisclosed hack | Facebook takes heat over Russian ads | Alt-right Twitter rival may lose domain Facebook under fire over Russian ads in election MORE (D-Va.), was introduced last week with a plethora of bipartisan co-sponsors, including seven in the upper chamber and 15 in the lower chamber.

Other prominent senators, including Homeland Security Chairman Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Sen. Cassidy plans to bring down Medicaid Senate committee schedules hearing on health care block grants MORE (R-Wis.), have since come out in favor of the McCaul-Warner commission as well.

Feinstein told The Hill she could not predict how her bill would be received.

“It’s obviously controversial, so I can’t tell you,” she said. “It’s just that I have a basic fundamental belief this is very important and that no American company should be above the law.”