A bipartisan pair of lawmakers on Monday introduced legislation to establish a national commission exploring how police can get at encrypted data without endangering Americans’ privacy.
The measure, from House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerAdvocates call on top Democrats for 0B in housing investments Democrats draw red lines in spending fight Manchin puts foot down on key climate provision in spending bill MORE (D-Va.), comes as Apple is fiercely opposing a court order requiring it to help the FBI unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters.
“The challenge of protecting national security and digital security simultaneously is complex. The ongoing Apple vs. FBI dispute is only a symptom of a much larger problem. But we are almost certain to see this scenario repeated unless the larger issue is addressed,” McCaul said in a Monday statement.
The bill 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.
The FBI and law enforcement officials have warned that extremists are increasingly using encrypted platforms to “go dark” and hide their plans from authorities. They are calling on tech companies to provide investigators with guaranteed access to secure data.
But the tech industry and privacy advocates have resisted. They insist such guarantees would create “backdoors,” or security vulnerabilities, that hackers and spies could exploit.
The McCaul-Warner commission would consist of 16 members, including tech industry executives, privacy advocates, cryptologists, law enforcement officials and members of the intelligence community.
Modeled after the 9/11 Commission, the group would have six months to create an interim report, and a year to deliver its full findings. Its scope would expand beyond encryption, exploring more broadly how authorities can maintain security with the proliferation of modern technology.
The bill has drawn a broad bipartisan group of co-sponsors that includes Sens. Cory GardnerCory GardnerProtecting the outdoors: Three cheers for America's best idea Ex-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Biden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program MORE (R-CO), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsWelcome to ground zero of climate chaos A tale of two chambers: Trump's power holds in House, wanes in Senate Bipartisan blip: Infrastructure deal is last of its kind without systemic change MORE (R-Maine), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetConservation group says it will only endorse Democrats who support .5T spending plan Lawmakers can't reconcile weakening the SALT cap with progressive goals How Sen. Graham can help fix the labor shortage with commonsense immigration reform MORE (D-Colo.), Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Senate Democrats ding Biden energy proposal Capito grills EPA nominee on '#ResistCapitalism' tweet GOP senators unveil bill designating Taliban as terrorist organization MORE (R-W.Va.), Angus KingAngus KingSenate backers of new voting rights bill push for swift passage Stacey Abrams backs Senate Democrats' voting rights compromise NY Democrat tests positive for COVID-19 in latest House breakthrough case MORE (I-Maine) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerFormer Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Democrat Jacky Rosen becomes 22nd senator to back bipartisan infrastructure deal 9 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2022 MORE (R-Nev.), as well as a further 15 lawmakers in the House.
McCaul and Warner’s offering is one of several pieces of encryption legislation circulating both chambers, some of which support the FBI’s position and some of which support the stance of technologists and privacy advocates.
The commission is seen as a compromise measure and has arguably drawn the most support of the various offerings.
The bill’s backers have been bullish on its prospects, even going so far as to suggest it will get White House support. The administration has been mostly mum on the subject of encryption since backing away from supporting any legislative proposal last fall — although it is expected to announce an updated policy in light of the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., and Paris.
The technology community was quick to offer their support to the offering.
“The significant risk associated with this issue demands a thoughtful and deliberate response,” said Mark MacCarthy, Senior Vice President of Public Policy at the Software and Information Industry Association.
“Without a thorough and informed examination of the threats, Congress must avoid legislating new technology requirements — requirements that could ultimately harm national security more than help,” he said.