Encryption

Grassley tries to revive 'going dark' legislative fix

digital key

FBI Director James Comey appears to have conceded defeat when it comes to legislation to require communications companies to make encrypted communications available to law enforcement on the basis of a search warrant. But Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley is not having it.

"I believe that the administration should use every lawful tool at its disposal and vigorously investigate each and every potential solution to this serious problem," wrote Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in an Oct. 8 letter to Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.

The letter comes after Comey told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that "the administration has decided not to seek a legislative remedy now, but that it makes sense to continue the conversations" White House officials are having with industry.

It was a striking change of course for Comey, who has been the face of the Obama administration's appeal to lawmakers to address the scenario of criminals and terrorists "going dark" by using end-to-end encryption on mobile devices.

In his letter to Yates, Grassley asked the Justice Department to brief his staff on the status of the department's discussions with tech firms and on a specific criminal investigation that the New York Times reported had been complicated by encryption.

"Countries like Great Britain and France are much further along in their national dialogues on how best to balance privacy and public safety with regard to encryption and are currently contemplating specific legislative proposals to address the threat posed by widespread inviolable encryption," Grassley wrote.

Digital rights advocates had a mixed reaction to the administration's decision. Kevin Bankston, director of New America's Open Technology Institute, tweeted that the decision was an "incomplete victory" and advised the White House to "disavow the idea of crypto backdoors completely."

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.


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