North Carolina’s senior U.S. senator, Richard Burr, a Republican, and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top-ranking Democrat, Dianne Feinstein of California, want a federal law requiring companies such as Apple to help the government access encrypted phone data under court orders.
Burr and Feinstein unveiled draft legislation Wednesday that, if passed by Congress, would mandate that communication technology manufacturers be able to access consumer data or help national security officials gain access on the devices they produce. The proposal – which has not yet been introduced as a bill – comes after much debate around a case involving the FBI and Apple, maker of the iPhone.
Earlier this year, Apple protested the FBI’s demand that it help government officials unlock an iPhone that belonged to one of the suspected terrorists responsible for a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.
FBI officials argued they could not access information on the iPhone because of Apple’s highly secure encryption software, which was designed to protect consumer privacy. The government obtained a court order to compel Apple to help unlock the phone, but the company brought a legal challenge.
We need strong encryption to protect personal data, but we also need to know when terrorists are plotting to kill Americans.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, has said it would be irresponsible and unconstitutional for the government to force software companies and phone makers to provide a “back door” past encryption security features.
Burr and Feinstein’s proposal doesn’t mention Apple or other companies by name but includes provisions that speak directly to the legal case involving Apple and the FBI. The name of the proposal is the “Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016.”
Major parts of it would:
▪ Require companies to comply with court orders related to access of encrypted data during criminal investigations.
▪ Allow for reimbursement or compensation to companies for costs related to complying with such court orders.
▪ Give companies creative freedom when designing software or operating systems necessary to comply with government data requests.
In a joint statement sent Wednesday from Feinstein and Burr’s offices, the senators said they want further discussion on the issue before a potential vote in Congress. Burr’s office did not respond to a request for an interview with the senator by late Wednesday afternoon.
“I have long believed that data is too insecure, and feel strongly that consumers have a right to seek solutions that protect their information – which involves strong encryption,” Burr said in an email statement. “I do not believe, however, that those solutions should be above the law.”
Legislation is needed to make sure terrorists and criminals aren’t able to use encryption technology to hide from law enforcement, Feinstein said in the email statement.
“We need strong encryption to protect personal data, but we also need to know when terrorists are plotting to kill Americans,” Feinstein said.