Senate encryption bill expected next week

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee is hopeful that his bi-partisan three-page encryption bill text will be released next week.

Richard Burr official photo, 114th Congress

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee is hopeful that his bipartisan, three-page encryption bill will be released next week.

The legislation is designed to give law enforcement access to encrypted communications with a warrant. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said the new bill will  "clarify that nobody is above the law in this country, that a legal court order applies equally and where there may have been not the need to be that explicit, we have tried to craft language that makes it very clear what potential crimes that applies to," Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) told FCW on March 10.

"Everybody will understand," he added. "It's very clear. There won't be any question unless a company wants to say, 'no, we are above the law.'"

The bill has been in the works for some time in coordination with the ranking member of the committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).  It was sent to the White House for review March 9, Burr said.

Burr explained that as with any court order, a judge could apply penalties for non-compliance.

"Because this is such a huge issue, I think the ultimate pressure point is what do shareholders think? " he said. "Companies will respond if in fact their share price is adversely affected. So, I am willing to leave it up to the American people to decide whether they want to see a system where people can [stiff-arm] a legal court. I don’t think they will be too appreciative of that."

Burr's encryption bill is set against the backdrop of an ongoing battle between the FBI and Apple, Inc. over access to the contents of a cell phone belonging to one of the San Bernardino killers. The FBI wants Apple's help in knocking out the security shields on the particular phone that are designed to prevent advanced hacking efforts.

In a March 10 legal filing replying to Apple, the Justice Dept. argued that the device manufacturer "has deliberately used its control over its software to block law-enforcement requests for access to the contents of its devices, and it has advertised that feature to sell its products."

The bill Burr plans to introduce presumably would be ex post facto to the Apple-FBI dispute, but would add a legislative framework for future, similar cases.

"The law applies equally and if the court says law enforcement or the court system needs this communication to make a case, there's nobody that can say no," Burr said.

A separate effort from Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a member of the Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence, calls for the creation of a commission consisting of experts in technology, cryptography, law enforcement, intelligence, privacy, global commerce and national security.

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