House Lawmakers Say No To Encryption Backdoors

Working Group Concludes Undermining Encryption Is Not In National Interest

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Today, a bipartisan Congressional working group tasked with examining the issue of encryption technology’s impact on law enforcement issued a year-end report concluding that “Congress should not weaken this vital technology because doing so works against the national interest,” and that the way forward lies in helping law enforcement find new ways to adapt to a changing technological landscape. New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) welcomes this report, which was signed by the chairmen and ranking members of both committees, as well as a number of other members.

The working group was established in May as a collaboration between members of the House Judiciary Committee and the House Energy & Commerce Committee, to help resolve the continued debate over whether Congress should mandate that software and hardware manufacturers design their products to ensure that all encrypted data is accessible by government investigators when necessary. Senators Feinstein and Burr proposed such legislation in April, a proposal that OTI strongly criticized as a threat to privacy, cybersecurity, and the tech economy.

Today’s report comes after many months of bipartisan investigation by the two committees including meetings with law enforcement, the intelligence community, privacy advocates, security experts, and tech companies. Based on that investigation, the report’s authors arrived at four observations: Weakening encryption is against the national interest; encryption is widely available and often open source, such that U.S. legislation would not prevent bad actors from using the technology; there is no one-size-fits-all fix for the challenges that encryption poses for law enforcement; and that greater cooperation and communication between companies and law enforcement will be important going forward and should be encouraged. As next steps, they suggest further investigation into avenues other than backdoors that can help address the government’s “going dark” problem, including working to ensure that all levels of law enforcement have the information and technical capacity they need to make full use of the wide variety of data available without resorting to backdoors.

The following statement can be attributed to Kevin Bankston, Director of New America’s Open Technology Institute:

“Today’s report from the bipartisan Congressional working group on encryption supports what OTI has been saying for the past two years: forcing U.S. companies to refrain from offering strongly encrypted products or to introduce surveillance “backdoors” into those products would not make us safer but would instead threaten everyone’s cybersecurity as well as America’s economic security. We hope that this report sends a strong signal to Senators Burr and Feinstein and anyone else on Capitol Hill considering legislation that would undermine encryption: the House committees that have jurisdiction over this issue are not interested in moving forward with any wrongheaded backdoor bill.”

“FBI Director Comey has repeatedly said he wants to have an 'adult' conversation about encryption in 2017. Today’s report makes clear that an adult conversation about encryption means taking backdoors off the table and focusing on how to help law enforcement adapt to a world where encryption technology is more common, rather than trying to force encryption technology to adapt to law enforcement,” Bankston continued. “We at OTI are eager to constructively participate in that conversation, rather than wasting any more time on proposals to weaken encryption that are just as bad now as when they were considered and rejected in the original ‘Crypto Wars’ of the 90s.”