Report: “Deeply divided” White House won’t support anti-encryption legislation

The White House has reportedly decided not to give public support to legislation that would force tech companies to help law enforcement agencies break into encrypted products.

Reuters reported the news today, attributing it to "sources familiar with the discussion." The draft legislation from Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) could be introduced this week and "would empower judges to require technology companies such as Apple to help law enforcement crack encrypted data," Reuters wrote.

The Obama administration said in October that it wouldn't seek legislation requiring tech companies to install backdoors in their products. But last month, President Obama said he thinks the government should have some access to encrypted data to investigate terrorist plots and crimes such as child pornography and tax fraud. "You cannot take an absolutist view on this," Obama said at the South By Southwest conference. "If your view is strong encryption no matter what and we can and should create black boxes, that does not strike the balance that we've lived with for 200 or 300 years. And it's fetishizing our phones above every other value. That can't be the right answer."

Obama argued that a method to access encrypted data should be "accessible by the smallest number of people possible for a subset of issues that we agree are important." He also warned that legislation could go too far if it's "sloppy" and "rushed."

Officials in the Obama administration are "deeply divided" on the issue of anti-encryption legislation, the Reuters report said. The White House reviewed the text of the Feinstein/Burr bill and offered feedback, but it will offer only "minimal public input" in part because "of a political calculus that any encryption bill would be controversial and is unlikely to go far in a gridlocked Congress during an election year."

This debate comes on the heels of a court case in which the FBI sought Apple's help breaking into an iPhone 5C used by Syed Rizwan Farook, a perpetrator in the San Bernardino mass shooting. The government stopped pursuing its case after it found a way to break into the iPhone without Apple's help.

Apple likely cannot force the FBI to disclose the method it used to access the phone's data. FBI Director James Comey said yesterday that the government purchased a tool to get into the iPhone 5C, but he said the tool does not work on newer models of the iPhone.

Though the FBI hasn't told Apple how it unlocked the phone, the agency has begun briefing US senators including Feinstein on the method it used.



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