Proposed US law would require tech companies to help defeat encryption

The draft bill would require companies to give technical assistance to defeat security features

A proposal from two senior U.S. senators would force tech companies to give technical assistance to law enforcement agencies trying to break into smartphones and other encrypted devices.

The draft bill, released Friday by Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein, would allow judges to order tech companies to comply with requests from the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to help them break into devices. Burr, a North Carolina Republican, is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee; Feinstein, from California, is the panel's senior Democrat.

"All persons receiving an authorized judicial order for information or data must provide, in a timely manner, responsive, intelligible information or data, or appropriate technical assistance," the draft bill says.

The proposal is likely to be controversial, with many encryption and privacy advocates sure to oppose it.

"This legislation places an unqualified demand on companies to decrypt their customers’ data upon receiving a court order from law enforcement," Daniel Castro, vice president of think tank the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said by email. "While companies should comply with lawful requests, it is simply not possible for a company to do so when the customer controls the only keys used to encrypt the data."

Services like WhatsApp, which now uses end-to-end encryption on its messaging app, would not be able to comply unless it modifies its security protections, Castro said.

"Yet, the bill explicitly states that it is not authorizing the government to require or prohibit any specific design changes to software or hardware," he added. "In short, this bill sets up a legal paradox that would further muddy the waters about how and when the government can compel the private sector to assist in gaining access to private information."

Technology companies would be paid for reasonable costs incurred in providing the assistance.

The long-rumored proposal, in the works for weeks, comes after a high-profile court fight between Apple and the FBI over access to an iPhone used by a mass shooter in San Bernardino, California.

The FBI ultimately withdrew its request in that case after saying it found another method for defeating the phone's password protections, but the U.S. Department of Justice said Friday it plans to appeal a judge's ruling against the agency in a New York drug case.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags USA governmentsecurityencryption

More about AppleBillDepartment of JusticeFBITechnology

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Grant Gross

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts