Week ahead: Senators close to unveiling encryption bill

A controversial bill giving law enforcement access to encrypted data could be released in the coming week as the Justice Department and Apple step up their fight over unlocking an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.

The long-awaited measure from the top two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee — 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 suspects’ communications.

Ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told The Hill on Wednesday that she had just passed the text along to White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, putting the timing of the bill in the hands of the Obama administration.

{mosads}The introduction “depends on how fast the White House gets back to us,” committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) told The Hill.

The measure is intended to address warnings from the law enforcement community that criminals are able to use encryption to avoid detection.

And while officials are pushing for some type of guaranteed access to these secured communications, the tech community and privacy advocates argue that such access would cripple global digital security and infringe on civil liberties.

The disagreement has been thrust into the spotlight by the feud between Apple and the FBI. Their legal battle escalated this week when the Department of Justice filed another motion urging a California judge to force the tech giant to comply with her order to help unlock Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone.

The standoff could make the Burr-Feinstein bill the controversial centerpiece in a heated Capitol Hill debate over whether and how Congress should act.

Meanwhile, the news that the Obama administration is preparing to publicly blame Iranian hackers for the 2013 cyberattack on a New York dam is unfolding on Capitol Hill.

The Justice Department is preparing an indictment against the alleged hackers behind a still-classified incident revealed to the public in December. Investigators said the hackers didn’t take control of the dam’s system but were probing its defenses.

The White House was alerted when officials initially believed the intrusion occurred at a much larger facility in Oregon. The news of the pending indictments has already sparked criticism of the administration’s response.

“It is downright shameful that it has taken President Obama three years to denounce Iran for a malicious cybersecurity attack on our country while at the same time sitting at a negotiating table with them,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said in a statement.

Daines linked the controversial nuclear deal with Iran to the delay in accusing Iran of carrying out the cyberattack. The deal, which rolls back economic sanctions on the country in exchange for Tehran limiting its nuclear program, was inked just months before the hack was revealed.

“This failure is undoubtedly linked to President Obama’s clouded judgment in ushering through his misguided deal with Iran, which has only endangered our national security,” Daines argued.

On Capitol Hill, the House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the 2017 budget for U.S. Cyber Command at 2 p.m. Wednesday. Director Adm. Michael Rogers is slated testify on preparing for operations.

The House Oversight Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Department of Veterans Affairs cybersecurity tools, also at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

The House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the Office of Personnel Management on Monday at 3 p.m. Acting Director Beth Cobert will testify.



The aggressive posture of the FBI under Director James Comey is becoming a political problem for the White House:

Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Thursday insisted the government is not looking to gain remote spying powers in its standoff with Apple:

The Department of Homeland Security said the U.S. power grid is not under threat from the historic cyberattack that recently took out a portion of Ukraine’s power grid:

The Justice Department will not be proposing any legislation on encryption policy amid the current debate, Attorney General Loretta Lynch indicated this week:

National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden had harsh words regarding the FBI’s claim that only Apple can break into the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino, Calif., terrorists:

Tags Denis McDonough Dianne Feinstein Richard Burr
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