With a bipartisan bill to prevent encryption backdoors from being embedded in smartphones’ security software at state agencies’ request, Congress plans to bar states from eavesdropping on their citizens’ phone calls.
The U.S. House of Representatives announced that the new piece of legislation will be advanced Wednesday. Lawmakers hope that the new rules will help resolve the ongoing tensions between the White House and Silicon Valley.
So far, tech companies and smartphone makers have opposed federal requests to weaken their products’ encryption, or create the so-called encryption backdoors that in theory can only be accessed by state-run agencies.
In the meantime, federal agencies have often complained that they are left in the dark by the strong encryption methods used by criminals to communicate to one another via their phones.
The new law dubbed The ENCRYPT Act explicitly states that no local government or locality can force a “manufacturer, developer, seller, or provider” to create security weaknesses in their products which can be later used by authorities to surveil unsuspecting citizens.
The bill comes months after both California and New York proposed new rules to force phone and app manufacturers to insert security backdoors in smartphones produced after 2017.
Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu, one of the proponents of the new law, explained that encryption backdoors are not only a threat to individuals’ privacy but they are also ‘technologically unworkable.’ For instance, California cannot order Apple to create a different handset from the ones’ distributed in other states.
As of now, we do not know what fate The ENCRYPT Act will have but in recent years, House members have leaned to a pro-privacy position.
The tensions between federal government and tech companies have subsisted for years now. But the issue became a national controversy after Washington’s reaction to Apple’s and Google’s 2014 decision to make encryption on their products stronger.
FBI Director James Comey recently told Congress that his investigators were not able to access the handset of one of San Bernardino shooters because of the strong encryption methods in his smartphone.
On the other hand, digital privacy right advocates and tech experts have been arguing that any encryption backdoors can be exploited by cyber attackers as well not only intelligence agencies.
But a recent Harvard University report shows that concerns over security of communication may be overblown since with the current state of technology there are other means to track suspects.
Image Source: Wikimedia