Report: New Bill Would Let Judges Order Tech Companies To Break Encryption; White House Not Thrilled

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The public fight Apple and the FBI recently had over one particular phone may have resolved itself, but the national discussion over encryption is just warming up. Now there’s a bipartisan effort to make a decision wandering through Congress… but the politics of it say that this particular bill is going to go nowhere fast.

Reuters reports today that there’s a draft bill in the Senate seeking to make tech companies more answerable to law enforcement, but adds that the White House — approval from which is needed step in making bills into law — is not exactly all in on the effort.

Senators Richard Burr (NC) and Dianne Feinstein (CA) are expected to introduce a bill regarding phone encryption as soon as this week, according to Reuters. The draft text will give judges authority to order tech companies to help law enforcement when asked to — basically, it would be a newer piece of law to fall back on than the All Writs Act of 1789, which is the one that usually sees use for this sort of thing.

However, sources tell Reuters that the bill “does not spell out what companies might have to do or the circumstances under which they could be ordered to help,” and therefore really doesn’t necessarily change the underlying discussions at play, both in the tech world and in government. Nor does the bill specify penalties for failing to comply.

Encryption and device security have become a bit of an unexpected rallying call this year. With the election looming seven months away, lawmakers from both parties have been eager to carve out stances claiming they want to protect both national security and also individual privacy. Senator Ron Wyden delivered a rousing speech last week extolling the virtues of encryption and vowing to shut down any bill that proposed to screw with it.

Although President Obama implied last month that he felt law enforcement agencies need a way to access potentially encrypted information, the current administration, now in its last year, appears poised to kick the issue to whoever starts sitting in the big chair next January. Reuters, when asking for comment on the current bill, received only a reiteration of last month’s press statement from the White House that the administration is “skeptical” of Congress’s ability to resolve the encryption debate.

Exclusive: White House declines to support encryption legislation – sources [Reuters]

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