Dem senator says he believes Trump would 'knowingly' abuse surveillance powers

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Biden calls for revoking tech legal shield | DHS chief 'fully expects' Russia to try to interfere in 2020 | Smaller companies testify against Big Tech 'monopoly power' Lawmakers call for FTC probe into top financial data aggregator Overnight Health Care: Progressives raise red flags over health insurer donations | Republican FTC commish backs Medicare negotiating drug prices | Trump moves to protect money for religious groups MORE (D-Ore.), a top privacy hawk, said Tuesday he believes the Trump administration would "knowingly" abuse its wide-ranging surveillance powers.

Wyden delivered his remarks on the Senate floor shortly after Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrDems plan marathon prep for Senate trial, wary of Trump trying to 'game' the process Pentagon to place new restrictions, monitoring on foreign military students Parnas: Environment around Trump 'like a cult' MORE came out strongly in favor of building a "back door" for law enforcement to access encrypted messages and data, an issue that Wyden has railed against due to cybersecurity and privacy concerns.

ADVERTISEMENT

"Many times in the past I have warned that unnecessary government surveillance holds the potential to be abused," Wyden said. "But I have never done what I am doing today. Today, I fear — rather, I expect — that if we give this attorney general and this president the unprecedented power to break encryption across the board ... they will abuse those powers." 

"I don’t say that lightly," Wyden added. "And yet, when I look at the record, the public statements and the behavior of William Barr and Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNational Archives says it altered Trump signs, other messages in Women's March photo Dems plan marathon prep for Senate trial, wary of Trump trying to 'game' the process Democratic lawmaker dismisses GOP lawsuit threat: 'Take your letter and shove it' MORE, it is clear to me that they cannot be trusted with this kind of power." 

"Never before have I been so certain that the administration in power would knowingly abuse the massive power of government surveillance," he continued. "It is for that reason that building government backdoors into the encrypted communications of Americans now is uniquely dangerous and must be opposed at all costs."

Barr, in lengthy remarks at a cybersecurity conference on Tuesday morning, said he believes encryption is allowing "criminals to operate with impunity" in the digital world, reopening a stalled fight over whether law enforcement should be given special access to encrypted messages.

Encryption has been a divisive issue for years, as law enforcement officials argue the process makes it easier for criminals to hide their communications while cyber experts say it is necessary to protect people from hacking and privacy violations. While some U.S. officials have called on the tech industry to create secure "back doors" just for the government, critics have insisted that would be an impossible and risky endeavor.

Wyden has consistently criticized any proposals to weaken cyber protections, and last year sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray raising concerns over his stance against encryption.

The Oregon Democrat during his remarks on Tuesday accused Barr of demonstrating "repeatedly that, when it comes to surveillance, the laws don't matter, the courts don't matter, the Constitution doesn't matter."

"Imagine what kind of information they could gather on their political opponents," he said. "Imagine if a member of Congress was secretly gay, and desperate to hide that fact. Or imagine that a member of Congress had cheated on his wife, despite campaigning on family values. Would a man like Donald Trump use that information against them?"

The Trump administration has increasingly waded into the fight over encryption, which converts messages and data into code to prevent unauthorized access.