Feinstein vows to offer bill to pierce encryption

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is vowing to lead the charge on legislation that would require companies to decrypt data under court order.

“I’m going to seek legislation if nobody else is,” she said during an FBI oversight hearing Wednesday

{mosads}Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) is also working with her on the bill, she added.

The recent terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., have resurrected a Capitol Hill push to compel companies like Apple and Google to hand over encrypted data to law enforcement officials.

“I think this world is really changing in terms of people wanting the protection and wanting law enforcement, if there is conspiracy going on over the Internet, that that encryption ought to be able to be pierced,” Feinstein said.

But many prominent tech players have argued that even they are unable to access customers’ encrypted data, and thus cannot comply with a court order to turn over the digital communications. They say any form of guaranteed access to secured data defeats the purpose of encryption, exposing customer data to hackers as well as to government officials.

Apple recently rejected a court order seeking encrypted iMessages, citing its unbreakable encryption system.

Law enforcement officials and some lawmakers warn this situation is making it exceedingly difficult for investigators to track potential terrorists and criminals.

“I have concern about a Playstation, which my grandchildren might use, and a predator getting on the other end talking to them and it’s all encrypted,” Feinstein said. “And so I think there really is reason to have the ability, with a court order, to be able to …. get into that.”

FBI Director James Comey, the sole witness during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, agreed with Feinstein.

“I would very much like to get to a world,” he said, in which “if a judge issues an order, companies are able to comply to either unlock a device or to provide the communications between terrorists or between drug dealers or kidnappers.”

Comey believes it’s possible to respond to such court orders without irrevocably damaging the encryption.

“Lots of companies do it today, provide secure services and comply with court orders,” he said.

But Comey stopped short of fully endorsing Feinstein’s legislative push.

“The question of whether the answer is compelling them to do that by legislation is one that I can’t answer sitting here,” he said.

The Obama administration decided in October to, at least temporarily, not pursue a bill that would force companies to hand over encrypted data.

Tags Dianne Feinstein Federal Bureau of Investigation Global surveillance Privacy of telecommunications

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