White House staying out of encryption bill debate

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The White House has decided to not publicly support a controversial bill that would give law enforcement guaranteed access to encrypted data, according to several people with knowledge of the discussions.

The measure from Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the leaders of the Intelligence Committee, is a response to concerns that criminals are increasingly using encrypted devices to hide from authorities.

{mosads}The bill would force companies to decrypt data upon government request. A draft is expected later this week.

While law enforcement officials and national security hawks insist such power is necessary to conduct criminal and terrorist investigations, the tech community and privacy advocates warn the move would cripple global security and endanger online privacy.

The White House’s decision to not vocally back the measure — first reported by Reuters — would be consistent with its recent statements on encryption legislation.

The Obama administration last year internally considered, and then dismissed, several similar legislative proposals.

More recently, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said he was “skeptical” that Congress could settle the encryption debate through legislation.

The apparent move would also fit with what some see as the White House gravitating toward greater support of robust encryption. The administration for months has been poised to unveil a long-term policy vision on the issue, which privacy advocates hope will include a strong opposition to any legislation that would weaken encryption.

But Burr and Feinstein still sought White House feedback on their legislation as it neared release.

Shortly before the Senate left town for a two-week recess in March, Feinstein passed an initial draft to White House chief of staff Denis McDonough.

Earlier this week, Burr indicated he had integrated some administration edits into the upcoming draft.

“I think it’s safe to say we’ve incorporated everybody who’s commented on it,” he told reporters.

Tags Denis McDonough Dianne Feinstein Richard Burr

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