A long-awaited bill to give law enforcement access to encrypted data will have to wait a few more days as the White House takes a second look.
Sens. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrDemocratic incumbents bolster fundraising advantage in key Senate races McConnell gets GOP wake-up call Senate approves short-term debt ceiling increase MORE (R-N.C.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel Feinstein Ban on new offshore drilling must stay in the Build Back Better Act Senate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair Jane Fonda to push for end to offshore oil drilling in California MORE (D-Calif.), the leaders of the Intelligence panel, told reporters Thursday that the latest draft of the bill had been sent back to the White House for review.
“Yesterday, I sent a copy to [White House chief of staff Denis McDonoughDenis Richard McDonoughOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — House lawmakers eye military pay raise next year VA secretary pledges to house hundreds of homeless veterans in LA by end of year Expats plead with US to deliver COVID-19 vaccines MORE],” said Feinstein, who is co-sponsoring the bill with Burr. “He indicated to me that the staff is going to look at it, discuss it with the president next week. So we’ll see.”
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.
While law enforcement has long pressed Congress for such legislation, the tech community and privacy advocates warn that it would undermine security and endanger online privacy.
“It did get kicked over to the White House because I think the chief of staff wanted to brief the president on it,” Burr said later, leaving an Intelligence panel meeting.
Obama’s briefing means the bill will not be released this week, as Burr had been hoping.
Burr told reporters Wednesday he was hoping to release a public draft of the measure sometime Thursday or Friday. It’s unclear whether the decision to reach out to the White House will alter that timeline.
“Look, we’re working,” Feinstein told reporters. “I don’t know why everybody is pressing for this. But every day I get questions on it. And I reach a point where it will be when it is.”
The upcoming White House review could throw into question the administration's apparent decision not to publicly support the bill.
After the administration reviewed an initial draft and offered edits in March, several people with knowledge of the discussions said this week that officials had chosen to publicly stay out of the heated debate.
The White House shot down those reports on Thursday.
“I am sure we will take a look at what they are proposing and be in touch,” White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz told reporters aboard Air Force One. “The idea that we’re going to withhold support for a bill that’s not introduced yet is inaccurate.”
Burr said he was hearing the same thing from the administration.
“A decision has not been made,” he told reporters.
The White House has tread carefully on encryption, maintaining that it supports strong encryption but is also sympathetic to the challenges the technology poses for law enforcement.
“The president has said before that there is no scenario where we don’t want strong encryption,” Schultz explained Thursday. “At the same time, we want to make sure we don’t allow terrorists a safe haven to operate in cyberspace.”
Schultz also maintained the White House had not made up its mind yet about the Burr-Feinstein efforts.
“I am sure we will take a look at what they are proposing and be in touch,” he said. “The idea that we’re going to withhold support for a bill that’s not introduced yet is inaccurate.”
This story was updated at 5:33 p.m.