US lawmakers have introduced the Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act to ensure law enforcement can access encrypted information. This bill is “a full-frontal nuclear assault on encryption in the United States,” one expert says. It requires manufacturers of encrypted devices and operating systems to have the ability to decrypt data upon request, creating a backdoor requirement.
Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham and U.S. Senators Tom Cotton and Marsha Blackburn introduced the Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act on Tuesday. The new bill “would bring an end to warrant-proof encryption in devices, platforms, and systems,” the committee’s announcement reads.
“Terrorists and criminals routinely use technology, whether smartphones, apps, or other means, to coordinate and communicate their daily activities,” Senator Graham said. He claims that law enforcement could not access “vital information” in many recent “terrorism cases and serious criminal activity” even after a court order was issued. Senator Cotton elaborated, “Tech companies’ increasing reliance on encryption has turned their platforms into a new, lawless playground of criminal activity,” adding:
This bill will ensure law enforcement can access encrypted material with a warrant based on probable cause and help put an end to the Wild West of crime on the internet.
The bill also “allows the Attorney General to issue directives to service providers and device manufacturers to report on their ability to comply with court orders, including timelines for implementation,” the committee’s announcement reveals. “The Government would be responsible for compensating the recipient of a directive for reasonable costs incurred in complying with the directive.”
Furthermore, the committee noted that the bill “Promotes technical and lawful access training and provides real-time assistance” and “Directs the Attorney General to create a prize competition to award participants who create a lawful access solution in an encrypted environment, while maximizing privacy and security.”
Backdoor Requirements Hurting People
Riana Pfefferkorn, associate director of surveillance and cybersecurity at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, calls the bill “a full-frontal nuclear assault on encryption in the United States.” She exclaimed:
This bill is the encryption backdoor mandate we’ve been dreading was coming, but that nobody, during the past six years of the renewed crypto wars, had previously dared to introduce. Well, these three senators finally went there.
Andi Wilson Thompson, senior policy analyst at New America’s Open Technology Institute, shares the sentiment, explaining: “This bill is just another attack on encryption, and trying to portray it as a ‘balanced solution’ that could protect privacy is just an attempt to distract from its true intent.” Thompson focuses on issues including digital security, vulnerabilities equities, encryption, and internet freedom.
The Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act “is actually even more out of touch with reality than many other recent anti-encryption bills,” said Andrew Crocker, a senior staff attorney on the civil liberties team of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). He added that the new bill is “even worse than EARN IT,” which he described as “a dangerous anti-speech and anti-security bill that would hand a government commission, led by the Attorney General, the power to determine ‘best practices’ online.”
According to the Senate Judiciary Committee:
Once a warrant is obtained, the bill would require device manufacturers and service providers to assist law enforcement with accessing encrypted data if assistance would aid in the execution of the warrant.
Crocker pointed out that the new bill “would give the Justice Department the ability to require that manufacturers of encrypted devices and operating systems, communications providers, and many others must have the ability to decrypt data upon request. In other words, a backdoor.”
The EFF attorney added: “The bill is sweeping in scope. It gives the government the ability to demand these backdoors in connection with a wide range of surveillance orders in criminal and national security cases, including Section 215 of the Patriot Act.” He warned, “Not only does the bill disregard the security of users, it allows the government to support its need for a backdoor with one-sided secret evidence, any time it feels a public court proceeding would harm national security or ‘enforcement of criminal law.’”
Emphasizing that “The requirements that the Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act would impose upon companies would undermine the security and privacy of ordinary people while the real targets of criminal investigations could just migrate to new encrypted services,” Thompson cautioned:
This bill would ensure that companies that provide products and services used by millions in the United States have to offer weaker encryption technology, putting all of their users at risk.
The policy analyst noted: “The idea that an exceptional access backdoor can safely be developed solely for government use has been debunked over and over again by experts, including former senior members of the U.S. Justice Department.” The Lawful Access to Encrypted Data bill can be found here.
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