A key House lawmaker is pushing a new initiative to deal with the proliferation of encrypted technologies that critics say allow terrorists to communicate without detection.
The effort from House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) will not force concessions on tech companies, McCaul said on Monday.
Instead, it would create “a national commission on security and technology challenges in the digital age,” which McCaul promised would be tasked with providing specific recommendations for dealing with an issue that has confounded law enforcement officials for months.
“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 in remarks at the National Defense University. “It is time for Congress to act because the White House has failed to bring all parties together — transparently — to find solutions.”
McCaul is planning on introducing his bill to create the commission in the coming days. It would be comprised of industry leaders in the tech sector as well as privacy advocates, academics and law enforcement.
“This will not be like other blue ribbon panels: established and forgotten,” he promised. ”The threats are real, so this legislation will require the commission to develop a range of actionable recommendations that protect privacy and public safety.”
Though the effort is early, McCaul’s push offers the potential to serve as a middle ground in the debate over encryption, which has created a rift between Silicon Valley and federal officials in Washington.
Leaders at the FBI and elsewhere warn that the rise of encryption technologies make it impossible for them to obtain a suspect’s communications even with a warrant.
Yet tech companies and privacy supporters say that weakening the technology would make everybody less safe. A vulnerability allowing the FBI to access someone’s messages could easily be exploited by Chinese spies or nefarious hackers, they note.
FBI Director James Comey had previously pushed for Congress to update a federal wiretapping law to offer a way around the encryption protections, but the Obama administration has backed off that solution amid rising opposition from Silicon Valley and concerns about weakening of overall security.
By Julian Hattem – 12/07/15 02:13 PM EST