Senate Intel chairman poised to release encryption bill draft

Senate Intel chairman poised to release encryption bill draft
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A draft of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s encryption bill is expected to circulate sometime this week, Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrMcConnell gets GOP wake-up call Senate approves short-term debt ceiling increase End Citizens United, Let America Vote endorse Mandela Barnes, Cheri Beasley ahead of 2022 MORE (R-N.C.) told reporters on Monday.

The measure — a response to concerns that criminals are increasingly using encrypted devices to hide from authorities — would require firms to comply with court orders seeking access to locked data.


“My hope is that you will have it in your hands this week,” Burr said.

Privacy and civil liberties advocates have pre-emptively campaigned against the bill, arguing it would undermine global security and endanger online privacy. 

But law enforcement officials and some lawmakers say such a measure is necessary to help police properly conduct criminal and terrorism investigations.

Burr has been on the cusp of unveiling his bill for several weeks now. He previously indicated the draft might drop shortly before the Senate left town in mid-March for a two-week recess.

But the lawmakers behind the bill, which also includes Intelligence Committee ranking member Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinJane Fonda to push for end to offshore oil drilling in California Overnight Health Care — Presented by The National Council on Mental Wellbeing — Merck asks FDA to authorize five-day COVID-19 treatment Bannon's subpoena snub sets up big decision for Biden DOJ MORE (D-Calif.), were still working to integrate feedback from the executive branch.

“I think it’s safe to say we’ve incorporated everybody who’s commented on it,” Burr said.

Many see it as unlikely that the Obama administration will ultimately back the bill. The White House last year internally considered — and then dismissed — several similar legislative proposals.

The draft is merely a starting point, Burr cautioned.

“This is truly a draft piece of legislation,” he said. “It’s for recommendations.”

As a result, both Burr and Feinstein told reporters they have not yet gone through the process of trying to line up co-sponsors.

The two lawmakers said they would meet soon to try and nail down the bill’s timing. Monday was the Senate’s first day back since its March recess.

“I was just looking for him,” Feinstein said of Burr, leaving a Monday evening vote.

“I can let you know tomorrow,” Burr told reporters after the same vote. “I just literally flew in. I haven’t had a chance to check on it.”

The Burr-Feinstein effort will likely face considerable pushback from the privacy and tech community.

They have long argued that complying with requests for encrypted data could force companies to undermine their own security, exposing millions of people’s sensitive information to hackers.

Apple even recently rebuffed an FBI court order directing the tech giant to create software that would have allowed investigators to hack an iPhone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino, Calif., terrorist attack.

The FBI withdrew its request after it discovered a way to access the shooter’s phone without Apple’s assistance.

The duo's bill will also compete with an offering from House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerGOP tries to take filibuster pressure off Manchin, Sinema Manchin signals he won't support filibuster carveout for debt hike Democrats insist they won't back down on debt ceiling MORE (D-Va.), which would establish a national commission to study the subject.