House Intel Dem: Unclear if encryption helped Brussels bombers

House Intel Dem: Unclear if encryption helped Brussels bombers
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The top House Intelligence Committee Democrat on Tuesday emphasized that officials are not sure whether encryption helped terrorists plan a series of bombings in Brussels that killed at least 34 people and wounded more than 100.

“We do not know yet what role, if any, encrypted communications played in these attacks,” Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffIntel Dem decries White House 'gag order' after Bannon testimony 'Total free-for-all' as Bannon clashes with Intel members Mueller has subpoenaed Bannon in Russia probe: report MORE (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

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“But we can be sure that terrorists will continue to use what they perceive to be the most secure means to plot their attacks,” he added.

Brussels on Tuesday was rocked by three coordinated blasts, two at Zaventem airport and another at a metro station near European Union buildings. The city has gone into lockdown, and the country has set its terror threat alert at “maximum.”

The deadly assault is the third major terror attack in a Western country in recent months, following the assault in Paris that left 130 people dead and the shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., which killed 14 people.

Lawmakers and investigators say authorities are increasingly blind to these plots because of extremists’ use of encryption.

While all sides agree that major terror groups, such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), are gravitating toward encrypted messaging apps and secure devices, the exact role the technology played in each individual attack remains unknown.

Schiff said regardless of whether the Brussels assailants used encryption, it is notable that they were able to pull off an attack “even when Brussels was under constant vigilance for just this kind of assault.”

Their success, he added, “shows how difficult and dangerous the threat from ISIS remain.”

Congress is weighing several approaches that could give law enforcement greater access to secure data.

A bill from Sens. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrNSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Senate Intel chairman: No need for committee to interview Bannon McConnell: Russia probe must stay bipartisan to be credible MORE (R-N.C.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDHS chief takes heat over Trump furor NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Democrats will need to explain if they shut government down over illegal immigration MORE (D-Calif.) — the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee — would force companies to decrypt data upon government request.

Another measure, from House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerNSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Dem lawmaker wants briefing on major chip vulnerabilities Week ahead: Tech giants to testify on extremist content MORE (D-Va.), would create a national commission to study the issue first, before deciding on any policy changes.

In the interim, two House committees on Monday established a congressional encryption working group to look into possible solutions.