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Update: Congress eyes commission to tackle encryption debate

Matt Hamblen | Jan. 20, 2016
Bipartisan bill would weigh balance between privacy and security.

Comey and lawmakers and even President Obama have repeatedly asked technology companies to voluntarily find ways to turn over to a judge any encrypted communications suspected of being terrorist related. Those requests have brought strong opposition from privacy advocates.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, among others in the tech community, has openly defended personal privacy, noting that newer Apple iPhones protect personal data with encryption directly on the phones that can't be accessed by anybody but the user.

The two lawmakers jointly penned an opinion piece for The Washington Post last month that outlined their intentions. "Because extremists are 'going dark,' law enforcement officials warn that we are 'going blind' in our efforts to track them," they wrote.

They noted that ISIS has distributed a manual to followers that includes tips for concealing messages through end-to-end encryption, secure apps and other means. Similar tactics are used by drug traffickers and child predators, they said.

But the lawmakers also admitted that encryption is also a "bedrock of global commerce and it has helped enhanced individual privacy immeasurably."

They added: "Digital innovations present us with a paradox. We are no longer simply weighing the costs and benefits of 'privacy vs. 'security' but rather 'security vs. security.'" Mandating backdoor access to encrypted data would "weaken Internet privacy for everyone" and make "information systems more vulnerable to attack."

McCaul and Warner want the new commission to include experts on all sides of the debate. "This would not be a group of politicians debating one another," they wrote, but would be a body charged with developing "actionable recommendations that can protect privacy and public safety.

"We must find more ways to stop terrorist attacks during the planning phase -- not while they are under way," they wrote.


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