Senator Burr, EFF's Cohn debate backdoors and encryption

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and the EFF's Cindy Cohn offer their opinions on encryption.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and the EFF's Cindy Cohn offer their opinions on encryption.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, went head to head over the weekend over the issue of encryption.

Burr, who is chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Cohn debated the issue through dueling columns in The Wall Street Journal.

Burr expressed his desire to work with tech companies on a way to encrypt devices while retaining a backdoor accessible to law enforcement that would be acceptable to both sides, while Cohn repeated her organization's stance that having a backdoor defeats the entire point of encryption.

“This is a counterproductive idea, with potentially disastrous implications for everyday lives and global commerce. Undermining encryption with so-called backdoors hurts security for online transactions, opens private communications to international spying, and damages American competitiveness—all for a plan that won't stop the bad guys from eluding investigators,” Cohn wrote.

Burr countered saying not having access is not only detrimental to halting crime and potential terror attacks, but is already on the books through the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, was enacted in 1994, which requires communications carriers such as phone companies to build in access for law enforcement into their equipment. However, the act needs to be updated because it was not written to include all the phone and computer companies that make the devices most people use to communicate.

“Technology has outpaced the law,” Burr wrote noting that Apple has already refused a court order asking for access to an iPhone running the unencrypted iOS 7 by saying there is no legal basis in place forcing the company to acquiesce.

“On that point, Apple and I agree. It's time to update the law,” he wrote.

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