National Security

Top Intel Dem: Congress ‘far from consensus’ on encryption

Congress is nowhere near passing legislation governing encryption technology, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said on Tuesday.

{mosads}And he said angry tweets from President-elect Donald Trump’s supporters aren’t likely to change it. 

“Whatever [Trump’s] views may be — it may cause a few more angry tweets in the direction of the technology sector — I don’t think it’s going to move the Congress a great deal. At this point, we are very far from a consensus on the encryption issue,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said during remarks at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast.

Lawmakers have wrangled over how to regulate the widely used technology, with law enforcement arguing it shields criminals and technologists insisting that any guaranteed access for police would weaken security for everyday users. 

During the pitched battle between the FBI and Apple over the locked iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters, Trump called for a boycott against the tech giant over its refusal to unlock the device for investigators.

Trump’s surprise victory in November alarmed privacy advocates and technologists, who are concerned that the self-proclaimed “law and order” president will usher in a new era of stiff regulations they say would drastically undermine online security.

But Schiff said Tuesday that while Trump’s campaign rhetoric suggests that his “gut level reaction” to the privacy vs. security debate is weighted towards security, it wasn’t necessarily prescriptive. 

“As we have seen, a lot of the decisions the president-elect made during the campaign are not necessarily the policies he’s going to follow as president,” Schiff said.

“It’s very difficult to know what exactly the Trump administration will do in terms of where we draw the line between privacy and security.”

President Obama has declined to take a formal position on encryption, in March warning of the dangers of an “absolutist” stance on the issue.

Schiff argued that lawmakers have conflated two separate issues with regards to the encryption issue — “data at rest” and “data in motion.” Data at rest refers to data on a locked device, like the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone. Data in motion refers to information while it is being transmitted from one device to another. 

“The issue of introducing vulnerability by introducing a door in the context of data in motion may be much more difficult to mitigate than the issue of whether a tech company when presented with the actual physical phone can open that phone,” Schiff said.

The thorny issue has resulted in myriad legislation, which range from a proposal from Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) mandating that tech companies provide technical assistance to law enforcement seeking access to a locked device to a compromise measure from House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) establishing a commission to study the issue.

Tags Adam Schiff Dianne Feinstein Donald Trump Mark Warner Richard Burr
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