Sens. Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein recently released a draft bill forcing nearly all U.S. companies to decrypt any encrypted data they may handle. Specifically, it would place a new, sweepingly broad duty on device manufacturers, software developers, ISPs, online services and others to decrypt encrypted data or offer “such technical assistance as is necessary” if ordered to do so by any court anywhere in the country.
The draft reflects an ignorance of everyday computer security practices that safeguard your devices and information from criminals. As currently written, the draft likely even outlaws forward secrecy, an innovative security feature that many major tech providers, including WhatsApp, have implemented to limit the damage to user privacy in the event encryption keys are compromised.
The draft shows how out of touch Senate Intelligence Committee leaders Sens. Burr and Feinstein are with the needs of the American people. Millions of Americans suffer the loss, theft, or compromise of intimate communications, trade secrets, and identities each year. We desperately need more security, not less. Yet this bill would strongly discourage companies from providing it. The draft should never be introduced in a bill and should never advance in the Senate.
It's also unclear why this bill was drafted for the Senate Intelligence Committee. The committee does not have jurisdiction over this issue, and similar bills—like the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA)—were overseen by the Judiciary and Commerce Committees.
Despite being in a golden age of surveillance, the senators are pushing Congress to destroy fundamental aspects of computer security. We already use encryption every day to protect our devices from criminals, ensure the privacy of our communications, and protect routine online transactions. Forcing companies to undermine their products will stifle the very innovation that built the American tech industry. American innovators and companies will just lose out since foreign companies will still be offering these protections to their users.
We have no doubt that the Intelligence Committee will try to pass this draft out of committee behind closed doors and without any public input. That's why we urge senators to oppose cosponsoring, or otherwise voting on advancing the measure.
In the coming weeks, we'll be calling on our community of digital rights supporters to join us in fighting back against this draft bill, or one that looks anything like it. Our goal is clear: stopping Burr-Feinstein and safeguarding the future of security for all Americans.