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Broadband, encryption and privacy top State of the Net agenda

Kenneth Corbin | Feb. 1, 2017
In a chaotic time on Capitol Hill, lawmakers from both parties see room for bipartisan work to advance broadband infrastructure, strike a balance in the encryption debate and update old privacy laws.

Schatz was less optimistic.

"I think we should legislate in the area of net neutrality. On the other hand, right now, it's too polarized," he said. "We're just not there."

He offered the observation that efforts at ambitious, far-ranging legislation have foundered in recent years, suggesting a baseball analogy in favor of moving forward with incremental bills of a narrow scope.

"We just obviously are not very good at the grand bargain," Schatz said. "You can score a lot of runs hitting singles."

Encryption debate as unsettled as ever

Meantime, lawmakers continue to grapple with the debate over encryption, where law enforcement and intelligence authorities have clashed with tech firms over access to the contents of users' devices, perhaps most visibly in the standoff between Apple and the FBI over the phones of the San Bernardino, Calif., shooters.

In the House, Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) chairs the Judiciary Committee, which has been examining the friction that has emerged when government authorities insist on access to a device or service as part of an investigation, while tech companies staunchly resist any proposals to create so-called backdoors into their products that could weaken security and compromise users' privacy.

Goodlatte said that his committee is taking a measured approach to the complex issue, and is taking to heart the recommendations of the encryption working group that he helped convene last March.

"We think this is going to be an ongoing, evolving problem, and there is going to be a need for the Congress to be aware of the need for some legislative solutions [at] some time, but also the risks involved if we undertake them and don't understand the ramifications of what we're doing," he said.

Goodlatte offered his thoughts on the subject while he conducted an on-stage interview of Lior Div, CEO of Cybereason, a Boston-based security firm. Goodlatte rejected any proposal for a universal backdoor -- sometimes known as a "golden key" -- that would enable law enforcement to categorically access encrypted information as a non-starter.

Div was blunt in his assessment of such a proposal: "If there is a backdoor, it will be found and it will be used against the main purpose for which it was created."

There was an evident symbolism to the staging of the session, where the lawmaker interviewed the private-sector cybersecurity expert. Both men spoke of the need for greater collaboration between the government and industry -- ensuring that data about emerging threats flows both ways would be a good start, Div said -- and dismissed the notion of an inherent tension between strong security and consumer privacy.

"We also have to look at this as a problem of not security vs. privacy," Goodlatte said. "In my opinion, it's security vs. privacy and security, because strong technology keeps people safe; at the same time it protects their information."


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