Will White House, currently mulling bill, remain mum on encryption?

A draft of an encryption bill, expected to be circulated this week, may not debut until next week, pending White House review.
A draft of an encryption bill, expected to be circulated this week, may not debut until next week, pending White House review.

While a Reuters report Thursday contended that the White House had indicated it would not support encryption legislation compelling tech companies to aid law enforcement officials in breaking smart devices, Sen. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the bill, which she co-sponsored with Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), had been sent to the White House Wednesday for review.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough “indicated to me that the staff is going to look at it, discuss it with the president next week,” Pelosi told reporters, according to The Hill. “So we'll see.”

The release of a draft copy of the bill, which was expected either Thursday or Friday, may be delayed as a result.

The White House already took a gander at the text of the bill in March and provided comments.

The proposed legislation 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. The agency recently turned to an outside party to crack that phone, the details of which were just this week shared with select members of Congress.

The Obama administration has tread carefully through what could prove to be a minefield with law enforcement bemoaning encryption as an obstacle to investigations and privacy and security pros claiming it as the cornerstone of data and privacy protection.

President Obama has been urged by several agencies to support encryption and “strongly disavow” legislation that would force companies to unlock customer smartphones and apps when presented with a court order. And the White House pulled together a working group to mull ways that encrypted communications could be unlocked.

Federal cybersecurity officials were out in full force at the RSA Conference in San Francisco last month and President Obama spoke at the tech and music festival South by Southwest (SXSW) in March, saying he was “on the civil liberties side” of the Apple/FBI battle that was raging at the time.

"I am of the view that there are very real reasons why we want to make sure that government cannot just willy-nilly get into everybody's iPhones and smartphones that are full of very personal information," the President said.

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