Week ahead: Encryption fight poised to heat up

Lawmakers left Washington for their summer recess with unfinished work on encryption.

The debate over whether to force tech companies to help law enforcement access encrypted data is heating up again, with lawmakers expressing frustration over the lack of progress.

At a hearing on Thursday, Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Memo: Trump's strengths complicate election picture Mark Kelly: Arizona Senate race winner should be sworn in 'promptly' Cindy McCain: Trump allegedly calling war dead 'losers' was 'pretty much' last straw before Biden endorsement MORE (R-Ariz.) chided his colleagues on the Senate Armed Forces Committee over Congress's inaction.

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"We are furthering the cause of child pornographers and human traffickers," said McCain.

The debate over encryption will only intensify following Thursday's attack in Nice, France, as officials look to see if more can be done to prevent future attacks.

The Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this year released a bill that would require companies to provide the government "technical assistance" to access data.

The bill, crafted by the leaders of the Intel panel, Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrRep. Mark Walker says he's been contacted about Liberty University vacancy Overnight Defense: Trump rejects major cut to military health care | Senate report says Trump campaign's Russia contacts posed 'grave' threat Senate report describes closer ties between 2016 Trump campaign, Russia MORE (R-N.C.) and ranking member Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFeinstein 'surprised and taken aback' by suggestion she's not up for Supreme Court fight Democrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court Biden leads Trump by 12 points among Catholic voters: poll MORE (D-Calif.), though was dead on arrival with opposition from civil libertarians and concerns from the tech industry.

Privacy advocates still see banning unbreakable encryption as a civil liberties issue and the nation's most respected minds on encryption nearly uniformly argue there is no way to provide a backdoor for the government to read encrypted files that bad actors will not also exploit.

Another bipartisan proposal from House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) and Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDemocrats call for declassifying election threats after briefing by Trump officials It's time to upgrade benefits Intelligence chief says Congress will get some in-person election security briefings MORE (D-Va.), aims to strike a compromise path, creating a commission to study solutions to the encryption problem.

That approach has been endorsed by Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

House Homeland Security Committee Counsel Joan O'Hara said this week that lawmakers were "hopeful" the Senate Homeland Committee would mark up the bill in September, when Congress returns.

At McCain's hearing on Tuesday, the encryption commission was mentioned more than once as a possible way for Congress to end the impasse.

But its unclear if the bill will be ready in September.

"The committee continues to review the legislation and should know more about a future markup as the summer progresses." A staffer from the Senate Homeland Committee told Politico.

Even as lawmakers' attention turns to the party conventions and election, O'Hara predicts talks will continue to hammer down a workable bill. 

 

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