Legislators Push Forward with Opposing Proposals on Encryption

Published: January 20, 2016 10:17 PM /


US Senate Building

Previously we had reported on two separate proposals, one in the House and the other in the Senate, which aimed to deal with the imagined threat of encryption. The first, being pushed mainly by Republican Senator Richard Burr and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, is a proposal to mandate backdoors in encryption. The second proposal, being pushed by Republican Representative Michael McCaul, calls for the creation of a commission of tech experts and law enforcement agents to develop a solution to the encryption problem. There have been recent developments concerning both proposals.

Jenna McLaughlin, a journalist for the Intercept, tweeted out that the bill in the Senate was delayed for an undetermined amount of time. While this might seem like some good news, it may not actually be accurate. A spokesman for Feinstein, told the Daily Dot that there is no delay. "I agree it’s unclear when a bill will be ready, but it has nothing to do with a delay,” he said in an email. “Staff are working on this issue, and that work continues. I don’t know where talk of a ‘delay’ comes from." The article suggests that talk of a delay could be the result of the recent departure of one of Feinstein's staff members, David Grannis. Grannis's replacement, Michael Casey, may need up to a week to get up to speed on the bill, and could be the source of the alleged delay.

Meanwhile, McCaul along with Democratic Senator Mark Warner, recently spoke with reporters about their proposal to create an encryption commission. The commission would be tasked with coming up with a solution that does not rely on backdoors. It's not very likely the commission will be able to come up with any solution at all that will satisfy politicians, but since both McCaul and Warner have voiced strong disapproval of backdoors, the commission should at least be harmless, even if it is useless as well. Warner acknowledged the futility of undermining encryption through legislative means, stating such a law might have been possible "ten or fifteen years ago" but now knowledge of encryption is so widespread that "This horse is out of the barn."

If McCaul and Warner are serious about looking for a solution that does not involve a backdoor, then their proposal would seem to be in conflict with Burr and Feinstein's proposal. Feinstein has commented on the competing bill, stating, "It’s not a bad idea, actually." However she has reservations about the time it would take for a commission to study the issue, and believes Congress must move fast. "Here’s the problem," Feinstein said, "If the Internet goes totally dark, and there are apps that people can use to communicate to plot, to plan, to threaten, to do all of that, you’ve got a real problem.”

Do you think either of the two proposals will eventually be passed into law? Leave your comments below.

Have a tip, or want to point out something we missed? Leave a Comment or e-mail us at tips@techraptor.net

No author image supplied
| Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.