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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 BarrTrump pressed DOJ to go to Supreme Court in bid to overturn election: report Budowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Two-thirds say the election was fair: poll 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 WydenHillicon Valley: Intelligence agency gathers US smartphone location data without warrants, memo says | Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian hack on DOJ, courts | Airbnb offers Biden administration help with vaccine distribution Intelligence agency gathers US smartphone location data without warrants, memo says Senate panel unanimously advances Yellen nomination for Treasury MORE (D-Ore.) and Rep. Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooHillicon Valley: Intelligence agency gathers US smartphone location data without warrants, memo says | Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian hack on DOJ, courts | Airbnb offers Biden administration help with vaccine distribution Democrats urge tech giants to change algorithms that facilitate spread of extremist content Bottom line 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.