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New Republican bill latest in long line to force encryption backdoors – CSO Online


In what seems like Groundhog Day when it comes to encrypted communications, a group of Republican senators last week introduced the Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act, which aims to end the use of so-called “warrant-proof” encrypted technology by terrorists and criminals. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced this latest measure to find a way for law enforcement to gain access to devices and data that are protected by unbreakable encryption methods.

“The Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act is a balanced solution that keeps in mind the constitutional rights afforded to all Americans while providing law enforcement the tools needed to protect the public from everyday violent crime and threats to our national security,” the Senators said in a statement.

Although the bill’s proponents don’t say so explicitly, the “lawful access” it seeks to establish mirrors a long string of potentially damaging efforts by the federal government to install backdoors into encrypted communications, according to critics. Virtually all cybersecurity and cryptography experts insist that any break in the encryption chain will break security and protection altogether, leaving criminals and adversarial nation-states with even more power to hack into users’ devices and communications for nefarious purposes.

History of anti-encryption legislation

The efforts by lawmakers and federal law enforcement agencies to force Silicon Valley and the tech industry to build backdoors into encrypted devices and communications go back to 1993 when the Clinton Administration’s proposed to create a “Clipper Chip” so the NSA could intercept encrypted voice communications. Since then, a number of proposals to bypass or otherwise negate encryption have been introduced and failed.

The best known of these anti-encryption efforts is the legal fight waged by former FBI Director James Comey with Apple to force the Cupertino giant into helping the Bureau break into the iPhone of a mass shooter in San Bernardino. Most recently, a bipartisan bill, the EARN-IT Act, which is also backed by Senator Graham, has been widely condemned as a sneak attack on end-to-end encryption.

The Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act comes after Attorney General William Barr coined a new euphemistic phrase for encryption backdoors, “lawful access,” and began promoting the idea of court-authorized access to the content of encrypted communications.  It’s no surprise, then, that Barr is an enthusiastic backer of the bill.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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