Roughly one month after United States senators introduced a “balanced” bill that would require tech companies to provide law enforcement with access to encrypted user data, a companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives this week.
Referred to as the Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act, the bill aims to put a stop to criminals using “warrant-proof encryption and other technological advances” to hide their activity from authorities, Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-MO), who introduced the bill, said.
“It is time tech companies stand with criminal investigators and the public to make clear they are committed to rooting out perpetrators who use their services to commit horrific crimes. As the digital world advances, so must our legislative solutions to investigate crimes that hit hardest the most vulnerable in our society,” Rep. Wagner commented.
Law enforcement agencies have long argued that strong encryption hinders their ability to conduct successful investigations in certain cases, often asking for backdoors that would provide them fast access to data of interest, but tech companies have opposed these requests, arguing that backdoors would introduce serious security and privacy risks.
The legislation would require tech companies to provide authorities with access to encrypted user data, while also stating that the Attorney General would report on which companies can comply. Furthermore, the government would offer compensation to companies that comply with the legislation.
“This legislation properly balances privacy, public safety, and our Fourth Amendment rights by requiring due process before any encrypted data or devices are accessed. At a time when children are especially at risk of exploitation, we must be sure our law enforcement officials have everything they need to root out traffickers and abusers who seek to use encryption as a shield to avoid justice,” Congresswoman Wagner said.
In a statement on Thursday, Attorney General William P. Barr applauded Rep. Wagner’s initiative to introduce the bill in the House, calling it “critical lawful access legislation.”
“Although strong encryption is vital, we cannot allow the tech industry to use encryption that blinds law enforcement and prevents it from thwarting or investigating serious crimes and national security threats, including terrorist plots, cyberattacks, and sexual exploitation,” Attorney General Barr said.
“Privacy and public safety are not mutually exclusive. I am confident that the tech industry can design strong encryption that allows for lawful access by law enforcement. Encryption should keep us safe, not provide a safe haven for predators and terrorists,” he continued.