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 BarrGOP rep predicts watchdog report on alleged FISA abuses will find 'problems' Barr defends Trump's use of executive authority, slams impeachment hearings GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse 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: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills Democrats raise privacy concerns over Amazon home security system Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny MORE (D-Ore.) and Rep. Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooDemocrats request info on Google-Ascension partnership Democrats demand FCC act over leak of phone location data Hillicon Valley: TikTok faces lawmaker anger over China ties | FCC formally approves T-Mobile-Sprint merger | Silicon Valley lawmakers introduce tough privacy bill | AT&T in M settlement with FTC 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.