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Democratic lawmakers call on Barr to stop opposing encryption

Democratic lawmakers call on Barr to stop opposing encryption
© Greg Nash

A pair of Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Attorney General William BarrBill BarrThe Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? Senate Judiciary Democrats demand DOJ turn over Trump obstruction memo Garland strikes down Trump-era asylum decisions MORE on Thursday urging him to stop government requests for encryption backdoors, which allow the government to obtain certain user information from tech companies.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenFive takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision Schumer vows to only pass infrastructure package that is 'a strong, bold climate bill' Supreme Court upholds ObamaCare in 7-2 ruling MORE (D-Ore.) and Rep. Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooHillicon Valley: Senate unanimously confirms Chris Inglis as first White House cyber czar | Scrutiny mounts on Microsoft's surveillance technology | Senators unveil bill to crack down on cyber criminals FCC votes to advance proposed ban on Chinese telecom equipment Pharmaceutical industry donated to two-thirds of Congress ahead of 2020 elections: analysis MORE (D-Calif.) argued that the Justice Department's push to limit such encryption "is not just hypocritical, but it has been repeatedly criticized by cryptographers and other leading cybersecurity experts."

“We urge you to stop demanding that private companies purposefully weaken their encryption for the false pretense of protecting children," the lawmakers wrote.

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Barr has been an outspoken critic of encryption, which protects messages from surveillance and makes companies that use it unable to access the contents of users' messages.

In a July speech, the attorney general said it prevents U.S. law enforcement from tracking down criminals at the helm of drug cartels and even some individuals who are responsible for murder.

Barr sent a letter to Facebook earlier this month urging the company to hold off on incorporating end-to-end encryption to Messenger and Instagram, saying the feature would allow criminals like child predators to avoid law enforcement.

While the Justice Department has pushed back on efforts to curtail access to messages for law enforcement purposes, tech companies have defended encryption as an essential privacy protection for users.

Digital rights activist and companies, including Facebook, have also pushed back on government requests for law enforcement backdoors into encrypted communications, arguing that creating them would compromise user privacy and give authoritarian-style surveillance powers to the government.