GOP platform attempts middle ground on encryption debate

GOP platform attempts middle ground on encryption debate

The Republican Party is attempting to strike a delicate balance in its stance on encryption technology, calling for Congress to find a “consensus solution.”


"No matter the medium, citizens must retain the right to communicate with one another free from unlawful government intrusion. It will not be easy to balance privacy rights with the government’s legitimate need to access encrypted information,” the GOP’s 2016 platform reads.

Potential regulation of the technology — used across the internet to keep communications of all types secure — has pit law enforcement agencies against technology and privacy advocates.

Law enforcement officials, led by FBI Director James Comey and backed up by security hawks like Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain: 'SNL' parodies made me feel like 'laughing stock of the country' Our military shouldn't be held hostage to 'water politics' Meghan McCain blames 'toxic' hostility for 'The View' exit MORE (R-Ariz.), have argued that encryption is stymieing legitimate investigations.

But technologists and privacy advocates say it is necessary to keep everyday users of the internet safe from hackers, identity thieves and government overreach. They say providing any form of guaranteed access for law enforcement without making innocent users vulnerable is technically infeasible.

The issue sprang into the public consciousness during a feud this year between Apple and the FBI, when the tech giant refused to help investigators unlock a phone used by one of the attackers who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., last year.

The FBI ultimately hacked into the device with help from a third party, but first it tried to leverage the court system to compel Apple to help. Critics argued that the agency was trying to set de facto encryption policy by creating a legal precedent.

Republicans seemed to allude to the FBI’s approach in the platform, arguing that lawmakers should find a legislative solution.

“This issue is too important to be left to the courts. A Republican president and a Republican Congress must listen to the American people and forge a consensus solution,” the platform reads.

There are a number of proposals on encryption regulation circulating both chambers. One proposal, from 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.), would require companies to provide “technical assistance” to law enforcement officials with a warrant.

A compromise measure from Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Altria - Biden holds meetings to resurrect his spending plan Democrats feel high anxiety in Biden spending conflict Biden meets with Jayapal to kick off week of pivotal meetings MORE (D-Va.) and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) would establish a commission to study the topic and provide recommendations to Congress.

The Republican platform tips its hat to both sides of the contentious debate.

“These increased privacy protections have become crucial to the digital economy. At the same time, however, such innovations have brought new dangers, especially from criminals and terrorists who seek to use encryption technology to harm us.”