In the aftermath of the Paris attacks last year, legislators in the US Senate began work on a bill that would require backdoors to allow police to circumvent encryption. The anti-encryption effort picked up steam after the San Bernardino shooting, and the subsequent legal battle over whether Apple should be forced to unlock a phone to assist the investigation into the shooting. However, sources within the congressional offices say support for the bill is collapsing.
Burr and Feinstein spoke to Reuters and admitted they have no timeline for passing the bill. They stated they were still in discussion with stakeholders and indicate that they have not given up on the bill. However, sources indicate that all of Feinstein’s Democratic colleagues in the Senate Intelligence Committee have withdrawn their support for the bill, as have several Republicans. Even if the pair are dedicated to passing the bill, they will have a tough time succeeding if support crumbles within their own committee.
Just last month, Senators Burr and Feinstein released an official draft of their bill. When the draft was released, civil liberties activists and leading figures in the tech industry were quick to criticize the bill, which may have caused some politicians to rethink their stance. Another issue which might be causing legislators to reconsider their stance is a competing bill on encryption, which would create a commission to study the issue. The commission proposal has broad bipartisan support in the House and Senate. Even legislators who are concerned about encryption may consider the commission a safer first step to deal with the issue than to immediately jump into far-reaching legislation like Burr and Feinstein are proposing.
Another issue which is said to be a road block in passing the bill is the lack of support from the Obama administration. Six sources within the White House state that the administration is deadlocked in deliberations over encryption. On one side is the Department of Justice, which is in favor of backdoors in encryption to make it easier for law enforcement to investigate crimes. On the other side are the president’s technology advisers and the Departments of State and Commerce who oppose any legislation weakening encryption. The administration’s official position is that it will not seek legislation dealing with encryption at this time, and many legislators are reluctant to push forward with the bill without presidential support.
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