Congress

Burr keeps up pressure for encryption bill

Richard Burr official photo, 114th Congress 

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, warns that commercial encryption enables confidential communications among terrorists.

In the weekend Republican address on June 25, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) made a pitch for his controversial encryption draft legislation by framing commercial encryption as an enabler of confidential communications among terrorists.

Burr and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairman and vice chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, are co-sponsors of the bill.

The bill was drafted during the Apple-FBI dispute that followed the San Bernardino attacks, as a way to provide a legislative framework for future cases in which law enforcement authorities seek access encrypted communications with a warrant.

The bill allows a judge to tack on penalties for non-compliance.

"We find ourselves at a point in time where laws that were enacted to provide authorities and capabilities to our law enforcement and intelligence community agencies are out of date, stale and in some cases no longer applicable," Burr said. "Those terrorists are using secure messaging applications to recruit, plan and execute attacks against civilians. What is increasingly clear is that the very technology is enabling tremendous innovation… is also providing terrorists ways to innovate and propagate their evil."

In the address, Burr also acknowledged the importance of consumer privacy.

"The content of our phone calls, email discussions, bank transactions, medical records and data should be secure," he added. "I have long believed consumer data is too insecure."

However, the bill is not without contention. Encryption experts have argued that the bill would essentially mandate backdoors to be built into consumer devices, and would weaken security.

"I can say without exaggeration that this draft bill is the most ludicrous, dangerous, technically illiterate tech policy proposal of the 21st century so far," said Kevin Bankston, director of New America's Open Technology Institute, on April 8 in response to the release of the draft discussion text.

The bill has not yet been formally introduced. And given the bill's opposition, the election cycle and tight political calendar, the bill's prospects this year are uncertain at best.

In March, a bipartisan group of eight House members was formed to consult stakeholders and encryption experts to come up with legislative solutions.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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