Representatives Ted Lieu, Blake Farenthold, Suzan DelBene, and Mike Bishop have joined to introduce bipartisan legislation that would prevent state and local governments from banning cell phone encryption outright.
The bill is a direct response to state-level attempts from Democrat Assemblymen in both California and New York to give government and law enforcement agencies access to the private information stored on your phone. The ENCRYPT (Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications) Act of 2016 may be a bit “on the nose” with its acronym, but it’s a vital step forward in paving the way toward a government that allows private citizens to remain private.
The data privacy debate continues to heat up, and ENCRYPT already faces direct opposition from no less than James Comey, Director of the FBI. Comey has complained to the Senate Intelligence Committee that one of the cell phones used by a terrorist in the San Bernadino attack remains inaccessible because of the encryption, although authorities have already acknowledged that no encryption was used to hide the planning the deadly attack.
Harvard University has added their voice to the argument, publishing a study that suggests a U.S. ban of encryption would be pointless anyway. “A Worldwide Survey of Encryption Products” identified 865 different encryption utilities, two-thirds of which were based in the U.S. Having what Senator Lieu calls a state-specific “patchwork of 50 different encryption standards” will “create new security vulnerabilities” from inconsistency alone.
Silent Circle is one such example, having decided to move the American-made company to Switzerland in 2014, in order to keep itself from potentially crippling legislation. Should ENCRYPT not pass, it’s easy to see other companies choosing the same route. The only consequence of preventing American companies from protecting private citizens’ data will be to put that privacy in the hands of other countries.
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