Burr-Feinstein encryption bill may appear next week

The Senate encryption bill, written by Senate Intelligence Committee co-chairs Richard Burr (R-NC) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), may be introduced as soon as next week, according to The Hill.

The bill seeks to address the difficulties of law enforcement authorities that are currently unable to access encrypted communications, such as the FBI's attempts to access the encrypted iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook.

Opponent argue that the bill would embolden authorities in deputizing private companies to decrypt security protections on their own products, a trend that many security professionals see as setting a dangerous precedent.

While the Senate bill was written by the Senate Intelligence Committee co-chairs, encryption is widely viewed as more of a challenge to law enforcement than intelligence agencies. National Security Agency's (NSA) director, Admiral Mike Rogers, stated in January, “Encryption is foundational to the future.” Speaking at a think tank event, he called arguments against encryption “a waste of time.”

Meanwhile, anti-encryption statements are growing more common during this political season, despite the commercial sector reliance on encryption. A report published this month found that half of Internet packets sent over networks are encrypted.

The encryption bill is an important – and perilous – issue for the Obama administration. In addition to federal cybersecurity officials being out in full force at the RSA Conference in San Francisco last week, President Obama will speak at the tech and music festival South by Southwest (SXSW) today. Even as federal officials actively work to enlist tech talent, industry professionals bristle as the aggressive approach taken by the FBI director James Comey in the raging feud between the FBI and Apple.

The text of the bill is now awaiting comments from the Obama administration. Feinstein told the Hill that she passed along the proposed text of the bill to White House chief of staff Denis McDonough.

The House introduced an encryption commission bill that would likely encourage a more nuanced stance that the proposal offered by Burr and Feinstein.

“I don't think a commission is necessarily the right thing when you know what the problem is,” Burr said in January. “And we know what the problem is.”

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