Leaked Senate Encryption Bill An ‘Insane’ Privacy Nightmare, Critics Say

Senate lawmakers are facing backlash from privacy advocates today as the full text of a proposed senate bill was leaked online – the bill would grant sweeping powers to U.S. law enforcement agencies, including the ability to force technology companies to open up electronic devices recovered in “criminal investigations.”

The Senate encryption bill leaked today was subject to swift and vocal opposition from security researchers and civil liberties advocates today for many of its controversial provisions – which would give U.S. judges the power to compel technology companies like Apple to participate in the unlocking or circumventing of security features on devices produced by the company in question. The encryption bill was co-authored by Senator Richard Burr, in response to the high-profile fight between Apple and the FBI over the encryption used on the California company’s popular iPhone. Some experts have even called the Burr-Feinstein bill “insane,” reports Mother Jones.

The Senate encryption proposal is an attempt to resolve disagreements between tech companies and lawmakers, who have diametrically opposite views on the matter of strong encryption on consumer devices. The Senate bill, which leaked late last night, is being called by some as a “backdoor ban” on encryption.

“It’s the most ludicrous, dangerous, technically illiterate tech policy proposal of the 21st century,” said Kevin Bankston, director of the Open Technology Institute.

According to Reuters, the Senate encryption bill would give U.S. judges the authority to order tech companies to surrender data in “an intelligible format” and provide “technical assistance” to law enforcement agencies in order to access locked data. The Senate encryption bill is reportedly deliberately vague in order to allow judges the broad leeway they would need to use the law against tech companies like Apple.

The Senate encryption bill’s authors, Republican Senator Richard Burr, and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, told Reuters that they’re still working on the bill – that the leaked version of the Senate encryption bill was just a draft, not the final bill.

“The underlying goal is simple; when there’s a court order to render technical assistance to law enforcement or provide decrypted information, that court order is carried out, no individual or company is above the law,” said Feinstein and Burr in a joint statement today.

The sentiments expressed by the authors of the Senate encryption bill are frequently countered by those within the tech industry who call the bill “technologically illiterate” for its failure to understand precisely how encryption works, or the wide-ranging consequences that weakening consumer encryption would have on internet infrastructure and U.S. data security nationwide, reports Wired.

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Apple was able to resist the FBI’s request for technical assistance earlier this year in part because of the vague nature of existing laws regarding law enforcement requests for such assistance, but the Senate encryption bill leaked last night would effectively solidify the laws in question making resistance to law enforcement requests of that nature “all but impossible.”

President Obama is scheduled to be briefed on the proposed Senate encryption bill on Monday, but the White House has thus far declined to comment on the encryption bill in part because it is still “a draft.”

The Senate encryption bill has met with opposition not only from the tech community, but also from within the Senate itself. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has publicly criticized the proposed measure, calling it a federal law that would make Americans “less safe.”

“For the first time in America, companies that want to protect their customers with stronger security will not have that choice, they will be required by federal law per this statute to decide how to weaken their products to make Americans less safe,” said Senator Ron Wyden, criticizing the leaked Senate encryption bill.

[Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images]