Apple Inc. and other Silicon Valley giants are an unhappy lot after two U.S. senators presented the official draft of an “anti-encryption” bill. The bill empowers courts to compel technology firms to assist security agencies to access encrypted communications or devices. This would help them in their crime investigations or to gather intelligence.
The proposal follows the release of an earlier draft that leaked online and ignited a chorus of condemnation from civil liberties activists and security researchers. They argued the bill would compromise Internet security and create a loophole for hackers.
Differs a Little from Leaked Draft
However, the same groups noted the latest draft differs a little from the leaked one.
Coincidentally, the bill has been released just as the U.S. Justice Department insisted it will continue with its New York case to order Apple to hack encrypted iPhones.
Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein and Republican senator Richard Burr, who also chairs the Senate intelligence committee, revealed plans to seek public input before they formally table the bill for discussions.
The new draft has no provision requiring communications companies or manufacturers to process, send or store data using any specific format, reported Reuters.
Instead, companies are required to hand over to the government data that is in an intelligible format once served with a court order. This applies even when data has been encrypted such that it is only accessible to the device’s owner.
The bill also states that companies should create products that comply with those provisions. This clause has been lambasted by critics, who argue it is hinders the development of strong encryption systems.
The new bill also narrows down the types of cases that require a court to issue the order. This includes crimes that resulted in, or could result in serious injury or death. It also covers crimes that involve child victims and drug offenses. Foreign intelligence operations are also within this scope.
The latest changes in the draft have been termed insignificant and that the bill is still a threat to Internet security. This is because companies that will comply will have to weaken encryption on their products.
The proposal is expected to encounter stiff opposition from privacy advocates and technology industry giants such as Apple. The possibility of the bill sailing through seems a tall order given the sharply-divided nature of the U.S. Congress.
For instance, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said the bill would expose Americans to criminals, stalkers, foreign hackers and identity thieves.
Senator Feinstein compiled the draft, called “Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016, with the assistance of Senator Burr, who represents North Carolina.
Bill Encourages Cooperation With Law Enforcement
Mrs. Feinstein and Mr. Burr have summarized their bill as saying its purpose is to ensure that companies work together instead of clashing with law enforcement officials.
The state that their bill doesn’t provide for establishment of any authorities to help the government to access communications. Rather, the bill compels companies to provide readable information to government which has lawfully obtained it via a court order. This will help security agencies solve crimes and improve their surveillance of terrorist and criminal activities.
The bill has been touted by lawmakers as ideal for sealing a strange loophole in existing law. This loophole requires authorities to obtain a warrant if they want to access recent communications. However, if the message is at least 180 days old, a subpoena is required.
The bill comes at a time when the FBI has revealed that it hired the services of the so-called “gray hat” hackers to unlock the iPhone involved in the San Bernardino case. This type of hackers are the ones that specifically profit from finding a flaw in a device and selling to its manufacturer or security agencies.