Senate Encryption Bill- Slippery Slope

The FBI’s encryption battle against Apple, prompted by the San Bernardino terrorist attack, has sparked a debate on whether tech companies should build a backdoor in their encryption keys for law enforcement agencies to utilize during investigations. Americans overwhelmingly support the War on Terror and by doing so, support the surveillance of terror suspects. What most Americans oppose is having their personal liberties compromised- which could be the case should tech companies allow law enforcement agencies access to encryption keys, originally designed to protect consumers’ personal information.


“I have long believed that data is too insecure, and feel strongly that consumers have a right to seek solutions that protect their information – which involves strong encryption, I do not believe, however, that those solutions should be above the law. I am hopeful that this draft will start a meaningful and inclusive debate on the role of encryption and its place within the rule of law,” Senator Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) explained when introducing the draft of the Burr-Feinstein Anti-Encryption Bill (Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016) earlier this month.


The anti-encryption bill, spearheaded by Burr and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California), Chair and Vice Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, respectively, would require telephone and tech companies to decrypt customer information for law enforcement agencies under a court order. The bill extends this requirement to “device manufacturers, software manufacturers, electronic communication services, remote communication services, providers of wire or electronic communication services, providers of remote communication services, or any person who provides a product or method to facilitate a communication or to process or store data.”


The bill does not prohibit or limit the ability of tech companies to encrypt data, it only requires  companies to create an avenue that would allow the data to be decrypted if necessary. Cybersecurity experts have called the bill a slippery slope that might endanger consumer privacy and lead to further involvement from lawmakers. “This basically outlaws end-to-end encryption,” says Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology. “It’s effectively the most anti-crypto bill of all anti-crypto bills.”


Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), have expressed their support for the Burr-Feinstein Anti-Encryption Bill, but an increasing number of lawmakers share the opinion that government regulation of encryption standards would not only weaken security but also significantly decrease the amount of American technological products in foreign markets, which would in effect threaten the U.S. economy. “For the first time in America, companies that want to protect their customers with stronger security will not have that choice,” Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and vocal privacy advocate told reporters earlier this month. “They will be required by federal law per this statute to decide how to weaken their products to make Americans less safe.”

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