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 Mauze BurrCohen to testify before Senate Intel on Tuesday Harris on election security: 'Russia can't hack a piece of paper' Schiff: Evidence of collusion between Trump campaign, Russia 'pretty compelling' 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 Emiel FeinsteinFeinstein says she thinks Biden will run after meeting with him Trump judicial nominee Neomi Rao seeks to clarify past remarks on date rape Bottom Line 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 Richard McDonoughSenate Intel leaders ask judge not to jail former aide amid leak investigation Live coverage: Justice IG testifies before House on report criticizing FBI Ex-Obama chief of staff: Obama's Russia response was 'watered down' 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 Sidney McCainMellman: Where are good faith and integrity? GOP senator says Republicans didn't control Senate when they held majority Pence met with silence after mentioning Trump in Munich speech MORE (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonInviting Kim Jong Un to Washington Senate approves border bill that prevents shutdown 'Morning Joe' host quizzes Howard Schultz on price of a box of Cheerios 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 Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: Trump pushes to speed up 5G rollout | Judge hits Roger Stone with full gag order | Google ends forced arbitration | Advertisers leave YouTube after report on pedophile ring Warner questions health care groups on cybersecurity Cohen to testify before Senate Intel on Tuesday 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 JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonWhite House, GOP defend Trump emergency declaration GOP senator says Republicans didn't control Senate when they held majority GOP senator voices concern about Trump order, hasn't decided whether he'll back it 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.”