House Intel Dem: Unclear if encryption helped Brussels bombers

House Intel Dem: Unclear if encryption helped Brussels bombers
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The top House Intelligence Committee Democrat on Tuesday emphasized that officials are not sure whether encryption helped terrorists plan a series of bombings in Brussels that killed at least 34 people and wounded more than 100.

“We do not know yet what role, if any, encrypted communications played in these attacks,” Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSchiff: Intelligence agencies focused on Russian interference 'even if the president isn't' Schiff: Intelligence agencies focused on Russian interference 'even if the president isn't' Schiff: Bolton, Pompeo undercutting Trump's attempts to stay out of war MORE (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

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“But we can be sure that terrorists will continue to use what they perceive to be the most secure means to plot their attacks,” he added.

Brussels on Tuesday was rocked by three coordinated blasts, two at Zaventem airport and another at a metro station near European Union buildings. The city has gone into lockdown, and the country has set its terror threat alert at “maximum.”

The deadly assault is the third major terror attack in a Western country in recent months, following the assault in Paris that left 130 people dead and the shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., which killed 14 people.

Lawmakers and investigators say authorities are increasingly blind to these plots because of extremists’ use of encryption.

While all sides agree that major terror groups, such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), are gravitating toward encrypted messaging apps and secure devices, the exact role the technology played in each individual attack remains unknown.

Schiff said regardless of whether the Brussels assailants used encryption, it is notable that they were able to pull off an attack “even when Brussels was under constant vigilance for just this kind of assault.”

Their success, he added, “shows how difficult and dangerous the threat from ISIS remain.”

Congress is weighing several approaches that could give law enforcement greater access to secure data.

A bill from Sens. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Tillis dodges primary challenge in NC MORE (R-N.C.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinNew push to regulate self-driving cars faces tough road Trump remarks deepen distrust with intelligence community Trump remarks deepen distrust with intelligence community MORE (D-Calif.) — the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee — would force companies to decrypt data upon government request.

Another measure, from House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Trump puts GOP in tough spot with remarks on foreign 'dirt' MORE (D-Va.), would create a national commission to study the issue first, before deciding on any policy changes.

In the interim, two House committees on Monday established a congressional encryption working group to look into possible solutions.