Back Door Legislation Won't Have The White House's Support (Nor Its Opposition, Most Likely)

from the punting dept

Senators Dianne Feinstein and Richard Burr have been talking about legislation that forces tech companies to help law enforcement break into encrypted devices for quite a while now. Nearly a month ago, they suggested it was almost ready to be formally introduced, but indicated that the White House’s response would determine when exactly that happened.

Now, Reuters is reporting that sources in the administration told them backdooring encryption will not have the President’s support, adding another question mark to when we’ll actually see this bill (though there’s a chance it will show up this week).

Although the White House has reviewed the text and offered feedback, it is expected to provide minimal public input, if any, the sources said.

Its stance is partly a reflection of a political calculus that any encryption bill would be controversial and is unlikely to go far in a gridlocked Congress during an election year, sources said.

A White House spokesman declined to comment on the pending legislation, but referred to White House press secretary Josh Earnest’s statements on encryption legislation. Last month, Earnest said the administration is “skeptical” of lawmakers’ ability to resolve the encryption debate given their difficulty in tackling “simple things.”

This isn’t entirely surprising, as the administration has suggested it won’t support such legislation since as far back as September when a leaked document outlined their options for responding to the debate. That document, too, seemed primarily concerned with “political calculus” and what the reaction would be in the public and congress to different versions of “not supporting” the bill, ranging from standing up for the actual truth to punting on the whole issue. In October, they decided to stay silent, though the President has since trotted out the same problematic arguments about compromise and absolutism that we’ve heard from many politicians.

Now, with the issue refusing to die and Burr and Feinstein’s bill perpetually on the horizon, it looks like the White House is going to stick to its silence with “minimal public input” and see what happens. Given the current political climate, and the fact that any such bill almost certainly doesn’t stand a chance of passing, this isn’t exactly shocking — but it’s still disappointing. As we noted last year, when your options include “take a clear stance on the right side of the issue”, you shouldn’t really need to consider alternatives. The President’s open disapproval may not be necessary to prevent the bill from moving forward, but it would go a long way to convincing technology companies and the privacy-aware public that the administration genuinely understands the issue and will fight for what’s right.

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Comments on “Back Door Legislation Won't Have The White House's Support (Nor Its Opposition, Most Likely)”

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14 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Administration does understand the issue

The administration understands the issue and does not want to fight for what is right, because that would go against the public conduct of DOJ and the FBI at the very least, and goes against the general sentiment of most of the executive branch agencies that have any sort of “law enforcement” subdivision. Given the choice between supporting the public or supporting law enforcement, getting them to hide and refuse to support either is the best we can expect. Now, if major law enforcement agencies opposed the bill, perhaps because of concerns that it would let others snoop on them, then you would have the public and law enforcement on the same side and the calculus would be easy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Burr-Feinstein discussion draft

Senate encryption bill draft mandates ‘technical assistance’ ”, by Cory Bennett, The Hill, Apr 7, 2016

A long-awaited Senate Intelligence Committee encryption bill would force companies to provide “technical assistance” to government investigators seeking locked data, according to a discussion draft obtained by The Hill.

The measure, from Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) . . .

See the full text below.

From the draft bill:

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
      This Act may be cited as the “Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016”.

Anonymous Blowhard says:

Save California's Tech Industry

Feinstein is an idiot. Even if this legislation doesn’t pass she’s a serious liability to California. Just like the FBI director’s lies and veiled threats, the shenanigans of Feinstein chip away at the prestige and trust in American technology. Unlike the FBI that exists primarily to serve its own interests, the role of Feinstein is to represent the interests of California’s citizens. Feinstein needs to go even if it means electing a different idiot.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Save California's Tech Industry

She’s up for reelection in 2018 and has publicly stated that she intends to retire after her current terms ends.

Dianne Feinstein is indeed a class 1 senator, and thus up for re-election in November 2018. However, on retirement plans, I believe you’re confusing her with Senator Barbara Boxer.

On January 8, 2015, Boxer announced that she would not seek re-election in 2016.

A month or so ago, someone had claimed Senator Feinstein had announced retirement plans, but when I attempted to verify that news then, I was unable to confirm that. Instead, there’s news such as—

Feinstein trying for 5th full term? Invites go out for fundraiser”, by Carla Marinucci, SFGate, Thu, Sep 3, 2015

California U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 82, has sent the first signals that she intends to run for a fifth term — invitations to a Washington, D.C., fundraiser for her 2018 campaign went out Thursday [Sep 3, 2015]. . . .

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Save California's Tech Industry

… Sep 3, 2015…

More recently—

Will Dianne Feinstein run again for Senate? ‘Ask me that in about a year’ ”, by Cathleen Decker, Los Angeles Times, Apr 1, 2016

Don’t ask Dianne Feinstein just yet whether she plans to run for a fifth full term in the U.S. Senate, a seat that will be on the ballot in 2018.

“I’ve got two years and nine months — ask me that in about a year,” Feinstein said with a grin Thursday during a meeting with Los Angeles Times editors and reporters. “I’ll give you the answer then.”

So that story is from the beginning of this month.

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