US politicians take aim at encryption again

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A group of Republicans in the US senate have introduced a new bill with the aim of forcing tech companies to comply with “lawful access” to encrypted information.

The new bill, called the Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act, calls for an end to “warrant-proof” encryption and was proposed by senator Lindsey Graham, senator Tom Cotton and senator Marsha Blackburn. Tech companies would be required to aid investigators by giving them access to encrypted data to help carry out warrants if the bill is passed into law.

The debate over encryption has been going on for some time now with the US Justice Department making the case that encryption prevents investigators from acquiring evidence from suspect's devices.

Now US lawmakers are asking for tech giants to provide lawful access to their devices and one way in which they could do this is by creating a key to unlock a company's encryption that is only available to police and other law enforcement agencies. If this sounds familiar, that is probably because the FBI asked Apple to do just this back in 2016 when it needed to unlock the iPhones of the San Bernadino shooters.

Warrant-proof encryption

People all over the world rely on end-to-end encryption to protect them from hackers, oppressive governments and others trying to access their data. By creating a way for investigators to access this data, US lawmakers could inadvertently end up making things easier for hackers.

The legislation proposed by the group of Republican senators doesn't ask for tech companies to provide backdoors in their products but it gets worryingly close to doing so. In a press release, announcing the Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act, senator Lindsey Graham makes his case for why he believes law enforcement should be able to bypass tech companies' encryption, saying:

“Terrorists and criminals routinely use technology, whether smartphones, apps, or other means, to coordinate and communicate their daily activities. In recent history, we have experienced numerous terrorism cases and serious criminal activity where vital information could not be accessed, even after a court order was issued. Unfortunately, tech companies have refused to honor these court orders and assist law enforcement in their investigations. My position is clear: After law enforcement obtains the necessary court authorizations, they should be able to retrieve information to assist in their investigations. Our legislation respects and protects the privacy rights of law-abiding Americans. It also puts the terrorists and criminals on notice that they will no longer be able to hide behind technology to cover their tracks.”

Surprisingly, the new bill would also give the attorney general the ability to create a competition with a prize for any person or company that can come up with a way to access users' encrypted data while still protecting privacy and security.

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Anthony Spadafora

After working with the TechRadar Pro team for the last several years, Anthony is now the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. When not writing, you can find him tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.