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 BurrKushner says he did not collude with Russia, had no improper contacts Dems slam Trump for 'stonewalling' oversight efforts Burr: Nunes 'created' unmasking allegations against Rice 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 FeinsteinOvernight Cybersecurity: Senate Judiciary reportedly drops Manafort subpoena | Kushner meets with House Intel | House passes Russia sanctions deal | What to watch at 'hacker summer camp' Manafort agrees to speak with investigators after subpoena Manafort heads for Senate showdown after subpoena 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 McDonoughTrump administration must release Clinton emails State Department tried to hide Sunday shows preview: McMaster hits circuit for second straight week Obama chief of staff: 'The president cannot order a wiretap' 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 McCainMcCain votes to advance ObamaCare repeal, replace after vowing to oppose Overnight Defense: House passes Russia sanctions deal | McCain returns to Senate | Watchdog opens criminal probe into M camo mistake Tough road ahead for McConnell on ObamaCare MORE (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Tom CottonTom CottonSenate rejects ObamaCare repeal, replacement amendment Live coverage: Senate begins debate on ObamaCare repeal If our innovators have no reward, how will America compete? 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 WarnerOvernight Tech: House GOP wants to hear from tech CEOs on net neutrality | SEC eyes cryptocurrency | Elon Musk, Zuckerberg trade jabs over AI | Trump says Apple opening three plants in US Overnight Finance: House votes to repeal arbitration rule | Yellen, Cohn on Trump's list for Fed chief | House passes Russia sanctions deal | GOP centrists push back on border wall funding Senators urge quotas on Canadian lumber, consultations with Congress 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 JohnsonRon JohnsonOvernight Healthcare: Senate votes to begin ObamaCare repeal debate | McCain returns to vote | GOP floats scaled-down healthcare bill MSNBC ‘Cartoon of the Day’ shows McCain lying in hospital bed McCain returns to applause, casts deciding vote to advance healthcare bill 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.”