House Intel chairman: Unclear if Brussels bombers used encryption

House Intel chairman: Unclear if Brussels bombers used encryption
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It’s unclear whether the bombers who killed more than 30 people in Brussels on Tuesday used encrypted devices or apps to plan their attack, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said on Wednesday.

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“We don’t know yet,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told The Hill. “But I’m sure that that’s the case, because that’s what they’re all doing.”

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 is on lockdown, and the country 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., that killed 14 people.

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

But technologists argue that encryption is an important security measure for everyday users of the Internet.

Nunes said that, together with ranking committee member Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffCourt filings show Trump, Cohen contacts amid hush money payments House passes annual intelligence bill Judge finds Stone violated gag order, blocks him from using social media MORE (D-Calif.), he has sought counsel on the technology from the National Academy of Science.

“We’re just trying to grasp a few important points,” Nunes said. “One is, can you actually slow this down? You want to make sure you don’t get in the way of innovators. But at the same time, where we can have access, we need to make sure that we have the proper laws in place to do that.”

“But it may not be possible,” he added.

Congress broadly is grappling with whether — and how — it should proceed with encryption legislation.

A bill from Sens. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrOvernight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Sanders mounts staunch defense of 'Medicare for All' | Biden, Sanders fight over health care heats up | House votes to repeal ObamaCare 'Cadillac Tax' | Dems want details on fetal tissue research ban Top North Carolina newspapers editorial board to GOP: 'Are you OK with a racist president?' Hillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns MORE (R-N.C.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTop Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations Hillicon Valley: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency plan | Trump vows to 'take a look' at Google's ties to China | Google denies working with China's military | Tech execs on defensive at antitrust hearing | Bill would bar business with Huawei 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 WarnerTop Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties Senate passes bill making hacking voting systems a federal crime Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency at hearing 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.

Nunes’s comments echoed Schiff’s assessment that the role encryption played in the planning of the Brussels attacks can’t be assumed.

“We do not know yet what role, if any, encrypted communications played in these attacks,” Schiff said in a statement Tuesday. “But we can be sure that terrorists will continue to use what they perceive to be the most secure means to plot their attacks.” 

 --Julian Hattem contributed.