Despite Apple Case Spotlight Push for Encryption Law in US Falters

It has been only months since key U.S. lawmakers had pledged to seek a law that would require technology companies to give law enforcement agencies a “back door” to encrypted communications in electronic devices, much of the support seems to have waned.

According to sources in congressional offices, the administration and the tech sector, the push for the legislation has seemingly gone dead with the diminishing support.

The sources said that there would be no chance of advancement this year for draft legislations that were prepared by Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Intelligence Committee and had been circulated weeks just ago. It is likely that the draft legislation would not be be introduced this year at all.

According to Congressional and Obama Administration officials and outside observers and media reports, in spite of a high-profile court showdown between the Justice Department and Apple Inc over the suspect iPhone, there is a lack of White House support for legislation.

“They’ve dropped anchor and taken down the sail,” former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden said.

Finding ways to unmask suspects who “go dark,” or evade detection through coded communications in locked devices have been unsuccessfully lobbied for by the Justice Department for years.

The cause of encrypted messaging gained traction in Washington after the Federal Bureau of Investigation took Apple to court in February to try to open the iPhone in its investigation of the San Bernardino slayings. The political landscape had shifted – or so it seemed.

Intractable nature of the debate over digital surveillance and encryption, which has been raging in one form or another since the 1990s is illustrated by the short life of the push for legislation.

Building law enforcement access into phones and other devices would undermine security for everyone-including the U.S. government itself, insist tech companies, backed by civil liberties groups.

Along with access to encrypted data, they need a way to monitor phone calls, emails and text messages,, maintain the law enforcement agencies. On the question of whether the government should have access to all digital data, the general populations have a split opinion as pools have shown.

The idea that Congress – not the courts – should decide the issue had gained momentum for a brief period following the legal battle between the FBI and Apple.

Burr had said repeatedly that legislation was imminent.

There was no timeline for the bill, Burr and Feinstein told Reuters last week. Burr said, “be patient” and Feinstein said she planned to talk to more tech stakeholders.

In the meantime, in the wake of the Apple case, the tech companies have accelerated encryption efforts. After the FBI said it had found a way to get into the phone, and subsequently conceded privately it had found nothing of value, the court showdown ended with a whimper.

(Adapted from Reuters)

Categories: Regulations & Legal

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