House Homeland Security Chairman Wants Commission to Study Encryption

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul, R-Texas

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul, R-Texas J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Law­makers are scram­bling to find a way to en­sure the gov­ern­ment can spy on ter­ror­ist com­mu­nic­a­tions.

Key law­makers in both cham­bers on Monday pro­posed some of the first bills to ad­dress the use of en­cryp­ted com­mu­nic­a­tions in the wake of the ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Par­is and San Bern­ardino.

The pro­pos­als from Sen­ate Demo­crats and House Re­pub­lic­ans wouldn’t man­date that the gov­ern­ment have “back­door” ac­cess to com­mu­nic­a­tions. In­stead, the law­makers are just pro­pos­ing that the gov­ern­ment and the tech in­dustry work to­geth­er to study the is­sue.

But even that tent­at­ive first step has pri­vacy ad­voc­ates nervous. “From my per­spect­ive, the idea is wor­ry­ing,” said Chris Ca­labrese, the vice pres­id­ent for policy at the Cen­ter for Demo­cracy and Tech­no­logy, a di­git­al-rights group. “En­cryp­tion is so found­a­tion­al to the se­cur­ity of the In­ter­net. Pro­pos­als to study back­doors seem like they will in­ev­it­ably lead to some bad tech­nic­al com­prom­ises.”

In a speech Monday, House Home­land Se­cur­ity Chair­man Mi­chael Mc­Caul, a Texas Re­pub­lic­an, said he plans to in­tro­duce le­gis­la­tion to cre­ate a “na­tion­al com­mis­sion on se­cur­ity and tech­no­logy” that would is­sue re­com­mend­a­tions to “pro­tect pri­vacy and pub­lic safety.” He said the com­mis­sion would in­clude mem­bers from law en­force­ment, as well as civil-liber­ties ad­voc­ates, aca­dem­ics, and rep­res­ent­at­ives from tech­no­logy com­pan­ies.

Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic lead­ers an­nounced their own pro­pos­als Monday to fight IS­IS, in­clud­ing le­gis­la­tion to dir­ect the Na­tion­al Academy of Sci­ences and in­tel­li­gence agen­cies to work with the private sec­tor to “identi­fy how en­cryp­tion tech­no­logy is used and how to make sure that our na­tion­al se­cur­ity needs and tech­no­logy policies are not work­ing at cross-pur­poses.”

The bills fol­low a speech on ter­ror­ism Sunday night by Pres­id­ent Obama in which he said he will “urge high-tech and law-en­force­ment lead­ers to make it harder for ter­ror­ists to use tech­no­logy to es­cape from justice.” Demo­crat­ic pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Hil­lary Clin­ton also said Sunday that tech com­pan­ies should get to work “dis­rupt­ing” IS­IS.

FBI Dir­ect­or James Comey first gave a high-pro­file speech last year warn­ing that crim­in­als and ter­ror­ists are in­creas­ingly us­ing en­cryp­tion to “go dark” from sur­veil­lance. His push for broad­er sur­veil­lance powers had seem­ingly sputtered out, but the at­tacks in Par­is and San Bern­ardino have put the is­sue back on the front burn­er in Wash­ing­ton.

The tech in­dustry and pri­vacy ad­voc­ates are fiercely op­posed to any le­gis­la­tion to weak­en en­cryp­tion. A back­door for the gov­ern­ment would be a huge cy­ber­se­cur­ity risk be­cause it could also be ex­ploited by ma­li­cious hack­ers, they warn.

“It’s the widely held con­sensus of count­less com­puter sci­ent­ists, tech­no­logy com­pan­ies, and na­tion­al se­cur­ity ex­perts that it is im­possible to build a back­door in­to en­cryp­ted products without com­prom­ising cy­ber­se­cur­ity and pri­vacy,” said Neema Singh Guliani, a le­gis­lat­ive coun­sel for the Amer­ic­an Civil Liber­ties Uni­on. “We don’t need yet an­oth­er com­mis­sion to con­clude … that the U.S. gov­ern­ment shouldn’t sup­port policies that weak­en en­cryp­tion.”

If Con­gress does move ahead with a com­mis­sion to study the is­sue, she said, its re­com­mend­a­tions wouldn’t be “cred­ible” un­less it in­cludes pri­vacy ex­perts and tech­no­lo­gists.

While the law­makers are scram­bling to find a way to en­sure the gov­ern­ment can spy on ter­ror­ist com­mu­nic­a­tions, they also seem sens­it­ive to the con­cerns from the tech in­dustry. Mc­Caul was care­ful Monday to em­phas­ize that he does not want to “vil­i­fy” en­cryp­tion.

“A le­gis­lat­ive knee-jerk re­ac­tion could weak­en In­ter­net pro­tec­tions and pri­vacy for every­day Amer­ic­ans, while do­ing noth­ing puts Amer­ic­an lives at risk and makes it easi­er for ter­ror­ists and crim­in­als to es­cape justice,” he said.

The de­bate over en­cryp­tion stretches back to at least the 1990s, with the first round of the so-called “Crypto Wars.” And des­pite plenty of de­bate, no one has been able to find a pro­pos­al that sat­is­fies both sides.

“At the end of the day, you can’t stop someone from do­ing math or cre­at­ing cryp­to­graphy,” said Mark Jay­cox, a le­gis­lat­ive ana­lyst for the Elec­tron­ic Fron­ti­er Found­a­tion.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.