Two bills recently passed in the states of New York and California that aim to weaken smartphone security in order to combat crime. The laws would prevent the sale of smartphones with full-disk encryption that could not be unlocked by the manufacturer (at the request of law enforcement). In response, Rep. Ted Lieu of California, a Democrat, and Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas, a Republican, have proposed a bill, the Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications (ENCRYPT) Act of 2016, that would block state-level attempts to ban encryption on smartphones sold in the US.
The bipartisan bill addresses multiple issues. One is the potential danger to citizens that backdoors raise. Lieu, who according to Ars Technica is one of four House members with a computer science degree, asserts that there is no way for good guys to have a means of secret way to decrypt devices without bad guys getting access to that same method.
Two, encryption is an interstate issue, bill supporters argue, and having a patchwork of laws that vary by state would not improve matters for law enforcement or strengthen national security.
Requiring companies to weaken devices with ‘backdoors’ means we open up innocent Americans to the bad actors who would love easier access to our citizens’ personal information. Given this reality, a patchwork of state laws on encryption will not make us safer. Rather, they open us up to attacks, and weaken our national security, not strengthen it.”
— Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D-WA)
Three, a policy enacted in California and New York would not be limited to those two states. This would impact the sale of phones across state lines and leave manufacturers faced with having to produce separate phones for different states (as they already do on an international level) or opt to sell all phones in the US with weakened encryption.
Attitudes toward encryption do not neatly fall along party lines, but many lawmakers lack an understanding of the technical matters at hand. Law enforcement is more focused and views this as a matter of being able to access information that they have been legally authorized by the court to obtain. Uncircumventable encryption gets in the way.
Last year, the International Association of Chiefs of Police release a 57-page report clarifying its view.
The full text of the ENCRYPT Act is available online. To become a law, this bill must first come to a vote in the US House of Representatives and make it through the US Senate before landing on the president's desk.
Photo credit: Andrew Bell
CONGRESSMEMBERS LIEU, FARENTHOLD, DELBENE, AND BISHOP INTRODUCE ENCRYPT ACTFebruary 10, 2016Press Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington – Today, Congressmembers Ted W. Lieu (D-CA), Blake Farenthold (R-TX), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), and Mike Bishop (R-MI) introduced the Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications (ENCRYPT) Act of 2016. The legislation would preempt state and local government encryption laws to ensure a uniform, national policy for the interstate issue of encryption technology. Recently, state legislators in California and New York have introduced bills to effectively ban encryption on any smartphone sold in their respective states.
“A patchwork of 50 different encryption standards is a recipe for disaster that would create new security vulnerabilities, threaten individual privacy and undermine the competitiveness of American innovators,” Congressman Ted Lieu (D-Los Angeles County) said. “It is bad for law enforcement, bad for technology users, and bad for American technology companies. National issues require national responses. The ENCRYPT Act makes sure that this conversation happens in a place that does not disrupt interstate commerce.”
“Different rules in different states create a myriad of issues and will actually make it more difficult for law enforcement officials. We need a unified approach to this issue that both protects security and privacy while enabling law enforcement to keep us safe,” Congressman Blake Farenthold (R-TX) said. “The California and New York proposals do not solve the problem. We need to keep free market and trade between the several states robust, not promote a false sense of security and require things like backdoors and golden keys that can be exploited by hackers.”
“Requiring companies to weaken devices with ‘backdoors’ means we open up innocent Americans to the bad actors who would love easier access to our citizens’ personal information,” Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D-WA) said. “Given this reality, a patchwork of state laws on encryption will not make us safer. Rather, they open us up to attacks, and weaken our national security, not strengthen it.”
“The safety of our nation is the number one priority for this Congress,” Congressman Mike Bishop (R-MI) said. “A major part of that effort involves protecting our information from cyber threats, whether it deals with our nation’s security, commerce or personal data. The ENCRPYT Act is a critical first step in adopting a national approach – instead of the patchwork of encryption standards that our tech industry and law enforcement face today.”
ACT | The App Association, Niskanen Center, Information Technology Industry Council, Internet Association, Internet Infrastructure Coalition (i2C), App Developers Alliance
PRAISE FOR THE ENCRYPT ACT
ACT | The App Association Executive Director Morgan Reed: “ACT | The App Association is proud to support the ENCRYPT Act, and applauds Representatives Lieu, Farenthold, Bishop, and DelBene for providing valuable leadership on data security. Encryption is an integral part of the U.S. economy. It provides security for much of the nation’s commerce, both online and at physical locations. It ensures that our most sensitive data stays private. Encryption protects patient health information, financial data, and every American who shops online. In the $120 billion app economy, encryption provides the transaction security that allows companies to sell globally. App companies flourish in every state of the country because they can market their software to a global audience wherever there is an internet connection. It is clear to see that encryption plays a critical role in interstate commerce. Regulation addressing this technology must come from the federal government. Any attempts by states to regulate independently in this space would create a patchwork of conflicting laws. This would be unmanageable and interfere with interstate commerce."
Jake Ward, President and CEO of the Application Developers Alliance: "We applaud Reps Lieu, Farenthold, DelBene, and Bishop for introducing the ENCRPYT Act, and look forward to working with the sponsors to see the bill signed into law. The Internet is truly borderless. Efforts by states to force developers to grant special access to even the most well-intentioned authority undermines what the Internet stands for, data security, privacy, and consumer trust."
Internet Association President and CEO Michael Beckerman: "The Internet industry commends Rep. Ted Lieu, Rep. Blake Farenthold, Rep. Suzan DelBene, and Rep. Mike Bishop on their introduction of the ENCRYPT Act. The ENCRYPT Act ensures that users will continue to be protected by strong encryption regardless of where they live. Weakening encryption by requiring companies to engineer vulnerabilities into their services makes us all less safe and less secure. Encryption protects billions of global Internet users from countless daily threats to the financial system, sensitive infrastructure (like our electric grid), and from repressive governments looking to stifle speech and democracy. The Internet industry has great respect for the role law enforcement plays in our national security, but without strong encryption, we are all less safe. The Internet Association supports the ENCRYPT Act and looks forward to working with Reps. Lieu, Farenthold, DelBene, and Bishop as they continue their work on this important issue."
THE FULL TEXT OF THE ENCRYPT 2016 ACT CAN BE FOUND HERE.
- Ars Technica