This post was originally published on July 2, 2020.
Following the introduction of the EARN IT bill in the U.S. Senate in March—a bipartisan legislation that sought to impose government-mandated “best practices” on social media and instant messaging apps, U.S. Republicans have doubled down on their desire to hold tech companies accountable for the behavior of their users.
On Tuesday, Senators Lindsey Graham, Tom Cotton, and Marsha Blackburn introduced the “Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act” which, if passed into law, would force device manufacturers and service providers (such as Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and more) to “assist law enforcement with accessing encrypted data.”
[Keep up with the latest in privacy and security. Sign up for the ExpressVPN blog newsletter.]
However, the government would not be able to request data willy-nilly. The law would only come into effect after a warrant for the data is issued by a U.S. court, based on probable cause that a crime has occurred.
Encryption and the U.S. government: a tetchy history
One of the thorniest issues among a long list of grievances that the current U.S. administration has with tech companies is the hands-off approach they have when it comes to assisting law enforcement.
The bill itself mentions five instances where criminals relied on end-to-end encryption to communicate with their handlers or carry out their dirty work. Once identified, the tech companies in question refrained from assisting law enforcement with their investigation, saying that the data’s encrypted nature prevented them from doing so.
The FBI, for example, has officially requested Apple’s help on at least two occasions. The first after the 2016 San Bernardino shooting, and most recently after the shooting at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida. Both times, however, Apple declined to comply with the request of enabling a “back door”, saying it would compromise the individual security and privacy of millions of users.
Tim Cook even wrote a public letter outlining Apple’s decision to build encryption backdoors, saying that the long-term implications of this decision were “chilling” and that “the government could […] demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages […] track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone without your knowledge.”
Other tech CEOs have also spoken up against building encryption backdoors, arguing that it imperils fundamental freedoms and is a violation of constitutional rights.
At a time when cyberthreats from criminals, hackers, and nation states are on the rise, our nation's leaders should not be calling on companies to weaken the encryption that allows us all to communicate privately and securely.https://t.co/hEnd0Oba69
— Will Cathcart (@wcathcart) June 24, 2020
The Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act makes no mention of the previously-introduced EARN IT bill, but it’s clear that both pieces of legislation attempt to compel tech companies to bow to the will of the U.S. government.
For its part, the Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act doesn’t specify weakening encryption either, noting that the Attorney General doesn’t have the mandate to specify what technical steps providers must take to implement the data-scraping requirements.
However, the Attorney General is allowed to specify a timeline for implementation, ostensibly to prevent companies from dragging their feet on the matter. To make things worse, the Act proposes the creation of a hybrid bounty program, giving third-parties financial incentives to extract encrypted data following a request from U.S. agencies.
In short, if the tech companies won’t build a backdoor, the U.S. government will pay hackers top dollar to use whatever means necessary to get the data for them.
Israeli firm Cellebrite reportedly assisted the FBI in hacking into the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone, and the Act may spur further innovation in this field.
William Barr, the current U.S. Attorney General, is a big advocate for clipping the wings of tech companies and has repeatedly asked for encryption backdoors to be hardcoded into devices and apps.
In a statement, he said, “Passing legislation that allows warrant access to encrypted data will allow law enforcement to further provide for the safety and security of the American people. I applaud Chairman Graham and Senators Cotton and Blackburn for introducing the first-ever bill to address this issue.”
nice post. Steve Mnuchin and the Trump administration have already taken over and have full access to your crypto-currency to “stop the money-launderers”. They know everything you are buying or selling and can close or take over your account at any time. They have full access to your bank accounts.
We want your private data to assist with … “national security”…it sounds like a movie plot featuring a much more evil version of Walter Peck from Ghostbusters. Figures the government would want to have access to all of that information. Have we not all forgotten all the other “breaches” they have been involved with (PRISM, HEART-BLEED, etc). We all know they would not use this only for law enforcement. Too bad this is not a more major issue on today’s ballots.
if privacy is no longer allowed, I would suggest we publicly publish the private information of congressmen, senators, etc.
specifically credit cards, birth dates, SSN, bank accounts and see how they like it!
People! Stop asking your oppressor to stop oppressing you. It’s stupid. If you want to know why civics isn’t taught in school anymore. Look at all the crazy crap coming from the people you know have lost their minds. (i.e. Joe Biden) These old men and women have been in their offices for over 30+ yrs. In those 30+ yrs. What have they done for the people? Why do they keep making laws that take away our freedoms if, The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” I guess American’s don’t comprehend English anymore. Can I blame this travesty on “The Prussian Educations System” aka Public School aka Indoctrination Centers for the compliant and mentally enslaved? Can I?
Has anyone bothered to look up the etymology of the word Government, Governance. If not do so. When you are done. Ask yourself this and look for the answer. “What is the difference between Slavery and Governance aka Government? Hint: The answer is in the diffenitions of the etymology of the two words. Do your own research. Why? It is like this. We spend time telling our children to never trust strangers. Yet, we do the opposite and do what they say on top of it. I guess critical thinking is almost dead. Prove me wrong.
Every time someone does something they don’t like. They want to punish everyone with loaded laws. These people break their own laws and treat the public like property. If we as a people don’t stand up and take back our power from big government, and get the corporations out of the government. Then the civil war they are looking for will happen. The thing is. They bank on the Sheeple to stay asleep. These politicians have no idea how close they are to being wanted themselves. We as a people out number them. And if they keep pushing the public to give up their rights. Not even the Military will keep them safe. No politician, nor any foriegn leader will be safe if they don’t back off. The warning signs are being ignored by them. And they don’t know how viscious the sleeping beast is. Like it was said on the movie “Shaft”. Mess with the bull, you get the horn. Well, speaking for myself. I’m no sheep, and I don’t follow Sheeple. They always use lame excuses to take away our Natural Rights. Screw the rules, laws, etc. these people use to manipulate the people. It is our Natural Right not to be enslaved in any facet. The time is coming when the elites will be running to hide under their rocks. They are destroying free will and messing with everyone’s livelyhood. Those two things alone warrant and validates the push back needed to take the elites down. They have to be stopped or they will destroy us all along with the planet they seem to enjoy poluting and destroying. Time to take back our freedom. Liberty is an ideology created by the 0.001% of the population. Wake up. They don’t care about us. So why are we complying with tyranny, dictatorships and totalitarianism. It’s beyond time for us to stand up for ourselves. “They” will not stop until this planet is all theirs and no one is alive except who they chose. If you can’t comprehend legalese or read the subliminal messages these so called elites provide for us. Then you fit into the group of people they consider useless eaters. Wake up people. The time is now to defend your life and future. Otherwise move over and let the people who care about the USA to stand up for our freedom. You can’t liberate without freedom. So we must secure our freedom, because they took it from us with a pen and paper, and they continue to do so up to this very minute. It’s not about anything you see or hear on the news. It’s about genocide and gentrification of the planet. Prove me wrong.
The only way to satisfy both sides of the argument is to give individual users the option to OPT IN or OPT OUT. Otherwise it’s just a blanket rule without any personal choice in the matter. We already have this with data usage but that will become obsolete if backdoors are allowed to exist. And frankly, backdoors will just create more fake data.
no rate limit!
Even tho it is an invasion of privacy, at this time and climate they need to be ever vigilant on the growing chances of terrorism here in America and around the world. I believe that our government now is on the forefront of cyber security and are not wasting time on what doesnt red flag a check on someone. This President regardless of how you feel abouit him is a proffesional who wants to protect his rights to privacy also, thats why it’s imperative that we keep him in office and get back to the integrity we expect from out govenment. which is made up of politicians who are bought and sold everyday. When it’s time to replace him. I hope we choose someone with outstanding credibility and common sense. Obama led a lawless regime for 8 years. Filled with spying on us and abuse of power going after the Right and their supporters, and then the now President. Its a big swamp and a deep
one at that. I’m for unmasking when it really is relevent and counts. There needs to be more that one signature to open up that information and should be BiPartisan to say the least.
Privacy of one’s conversation is an inalienable right just as freedom of speech and religion. This bill is a travesty to our freedoms and should enrage all voters. Call your congressmen or congresswomen and let them know how many few votes they will have next time around. Call or write to President Trump and express your view. A bill of this nature should never be left unnoticed and should never make it to the Presidents desk. It’s sickening and swampy.
I will buy this comment when tech companies actually start caring about our freedom of speech. If it is ok to shut down the speech of those you disagree with and deplatform them then we never cared about rights to begin with.
Seems to me it’s a classic double bind. The government has a legitimate need to control crime and people have a similar right to privacy. The question boils down to whether or not one trusts their government with this kind of power. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that’s a good idea…. My own view is nope. Not even close.
The question is not what will happen if they destroy end-to-end encryption. The question is why they want to end it?
Long story short: dear god please stop voting for republicans. Anti Net Neutrality, anti privacy, anti data security. A backdoor for the government is a backdoor for anyone – we’ve seen how well the government protects its secrets.
Get better people into the political areana and have term limits.
And who has our government gone after? Repuplicans. There are no Democrats under the microscope, Every day there is more litigation against trump or any of his allies. The only ones taking our freedom of privacy and our right to free speech is the democratic media establishment and left leaning judges.