Week ahead: Encryption fight heats up

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Two lawmakers are set to reveal more details about a major encryption bill Wednesday amid a renewed debate over what role Congress should play in regulating encryption standards.

The long-awaited measure, from House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), would establish a national commission to figure out how police can get at encrypted data without endangering Americans’ privacy.

The bill, which McCaul first discussed in a December speech, is intended to cut through the heated rhetoric that has defined the encryption debate in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.

{mosads}Apple’s recent decision to rebuff a court order seeking help unlocking an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters has only upped the ante in the long-running feud between the tech community and law enforcement.

The FBI and other officials warn that they are increasingly unable to get valuable information stored on secure devices during criminal and terrorism investigations. They have pressed tech companies to help investigators unlock these devices.

But the tech community has resisted, arguing that such assistance would amount to creating a “back door” into all devices that could be exploited by hackers and foreign spies. Digital rights advocates and civil libertarians strongly back this stance, insisting such help could endanger a basic right to privacy.

McCaul and Warner want to get all these parties to the table with their commission.

The two points of view “are at loggerheads,” Warner told reporters in January.

A commission could move the stalled discussion “beyond the partisan back and forth and establishes this as a national priority,” he added.

The McCaul-Warner measure, which will be detailed Wednesday at a Bipartisan Policy Center event, could offer a compromise solution to the tricky question of how Congress should react to the so-called “going dark” problem.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) has been working on a bill with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the committee’s ranking member, that would force companies like Apple to comply with court orders seeking access to encrypted data.

Following Apple’s defiance this past week, some Republicans are renewing their push for such a bill.

But the proposal hasn’t gained broad support on Capitol Hill, with influential committee leaders speaking out against it or withholding an endorsement for the time being.

A vocal, bipartisan coalition of tech-focused, privacy-minded lawmakers has also strongly backed Apple’s recent decision. The group maintains that Congress should not pass any bill that would affect digital security tools.

Apple has until next Friday to officially file its appeal.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday will dive back into this summer’s massive hacks of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

The committee is dubbing the hearing “OPM data breach: Part III,” but it’s far from just the third time Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz has investigated the digital intrusions. The Utah Republican has peppered OPM with numerous letters seeking more details about the cyberattacks, even issuing a subpoena to the agency for withholding hack-related documents.

The hearing comes days after the OPM’s inspector general declared the agency’s interim director ineligible to serve while her nomination to hold the position permanently is before the Senate.

On Thursday, the House Homeland Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies will also take a look at the emerging cyber threat that countries like China, Russia, North Korea and Iran pose to the U.S.



The Manhattan district attorney’s office is considering seeking court orders to unlock encrypted smartphones in several cases:

Google and other tech companies are backing Apple as it fights the government’s court order:

Lyft said in court filings this week that rival ride-hailing service Uber is using litigation related to a 2014 data breach to conduct a “witch-hunt”:

A coalition of tech and business groups is pressing the Obama administration to renegotiate an international agreement designed to keep hacking tools out of the hands of repressive regimes:

NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers said encryption helped the Paris attackers hide from authorities before carrying out their deadly assault in November:

A Los Angeles hospital paid $17,000 worth of bitcoins to restore access to its computer network:

Tags Dianne Feinstein Jason Chaffetz Mark Warner Richard Burr

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