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 BarrWilliam Pelham BarrValerie Jarrett to DOJ on George Floyd: 'We expect action, we expect justice' Hillicon Valley: Twitter flags Trump tweet for 'glorifying violence' | Cruz calls for criminal investigation into Twitter over alleged sanctions violations | Senators urge FTC to investigate TikTok child privacy issues Flynn urged Russian diplomat to have 'reciprocal' response to Obama sanctions, new transcripts show 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 WydenOn The Money: Senate Dems pump brakes on new stimulus checks | Trump officials sued over tax refunds | Fed to soon open small-business lending program Senate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks Voting rights, public health officials roll out guidelines to protect voters from COVID-19 MORE (D-Ore.) and Rep. Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooHillicon Valley: Senate votes to reauthorize intel programs with added protections | ACLU calls on House to block warrantless web browsing surveillance | Dems introduce COVID-19 privacy bill Democrats introduce coronavirus-focused privacy legislation Hillicon Valley: Experts raise security concerns about online voting | Musk finds supporter in Trump | Officials warn that Chinese hackers targeting COVID-19 research groups 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.