Burr-Feinstein Anti-Encryption Bill Has No Support, Won't Be Moving Forward Anytime Soon

from the but-a-corpse-can-always-be-exhumed-and-'Weekend-at-Bernied'-back-into-ac dept

Some good news has arrived: the Feinstein-Burr anti-encryption bill is now little more than a cooling corpse in the legislative mortuary.

Draft legislation that Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Intelligence Committee, had circulated weeks ago likely will not be introduced this year and, even if it were, would stand no chance of advancing, the sources said.

Key among the problems was the lack of White House support for legislation in spite of a high-profile court showdown between the Justice Department and Apple Inc over the suspect iPhone, according to Congressional and Obama Administration officials and outside observers.

But, as Miracle Max pointed out, “mostly dead” is still “slightly alive.” There are caveats hidden in Reuters’ eulogy. Taking the bill out of the running for “this year” doesn’t necessarily mean Burr/Feinstein won’t take it out of cold storage after the regime change. It also doesn’t rule out revived interest in backdooring encryption should an exploitable tragedy occur in the coming months. Never bet against the House/Senate. Bad ideas — along with ECPA/FOIA reform attempts — are perennial, but only the former draw strength from the deaths of US citizens. And you can never count out the undying support of law enforcement agencies, which have quite a bit of pull in national and state legislatures.

But even the usual supporters of government surveillance had their problems with the anti-encryption effort. Senator Lindsey Graham backed away hurriedly once he became aware of what was actually at stake.

“I was all with you until I actually started getting briefed by the people in the Intel Community,” Graham told Attorney General Loretta Lynch during an oversight hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I will say that I’m a person that’s been moved by the arguments about the precedent we set and the damage we might be doing to our own national security.”

This is what happens when you actually converse with the “smart people” at tech companies. This explains why FBI Director James Comey would rather talk about “smart people,” rather than to them. (Shorter Comey: “Nerd harder, nerds.”) Nothing chills anti-encryption fervor more than the cold water of reality. Comey would rather be guided by faith and his belief in his own “rightness” than take the chance of being informed about how wrong he actually is.

Feinstein and Burr have a lot of pull and are in the intelligence community’s inner circle. But if they can’t get this done — even in the wake of a mass shooting that dovetailed into a legal battle over iPhone access — it’s unlikely they’ll be able to round up the support they need until after a new president is in place. And even that’s no guarantee. But for now, the bill is going nowhere, and that’s something.

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Comments on “Burr-Feinstein Anti-Encryption Bill Has No Support, Won't Be Moving Forward Anytime Soon”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Zombie Legislation

Also no promises that it will not be attached as a rider to a bit of BIG DEAL legislation that guarantees that a piece of shit like this gets passed too.

Crooked politics are used often to sucker the all too easy to fool American Citizens and their fucking idiot politicians.

The 2 party system is actively suppressing any candidate that wants to clean up corruption because both want the corruption to continue. Sure ever candidate has a token clean up corruption bit in their campaign but no one ever says how they plan to do “actually” that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Zombie Legislation

What I expect to see more of in the future is Advanced Persistent Legislation — the government’s version of targeted malware.

The idea is that they scatter bits of what’s needed in legal changes throughout all sorts of other unrelated bills, and then have “one bill to bind them all” come in right at the end, tied to an important rider, and not doing much in and of itself, other than to link up all the other bits of legislation that came before.

The orgs that are pushing this stuff could even write the bits into legislation being passed by a number of different congresspeople so that they’re not aware themselves of what exactly they’re passing into law.

The scary thing is that this method would be somewhat trivial to accomplish.

chris (profile) says:

These are the people entrusted to protect you.

I am going to assume someone smart spoke to people about what encryption is and isn’t. What it is; math, what it isn’t; a magical mystical realm where anything you desire is possible.

This is one of those absolutist debates. There are no compromises there are no magical backdoors. A backdoor in encryption is like locking your front door but leaving the key in the lock, sure the deadbolt or handle is locked, all an intruder needs to do is turn the key. Thats an encryption backdoor.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 These are the people entrusted to protect you.

One other change: the key isn’t left under the door mat or nearby rock; it’s left in the neighbor’s mailbox where someone looking through the neighbor’s mail is likely to find it attached to a note saying what it is. Sure, it’s illegal to look through someone else’s mailbox and to steal the key… but when the purposes for taking the key are already illegal, is that supposed to stop someone?

mcinsand (profile) says:

James Comey would rather talk about "smart people,"

Oh, the irony. You don’t have to be very smart to do a little math. You also don’t have to be very smart to know that any software exploit will eventually fall into the hands of those that are not aboveboard. Now, let’s say that the ratio of average people to the villains that they’re trying to catch is 100,000:1. That is unrealistically bad, but useful, anyway. What Burr and Feinstein want to do is to make those 100,000 citizens more vulnerable as targets in exchange for gathering more information on people that they can’t even spot when getting adequate information through normal channels. The best-case outcome of Burr-Feinstein would be that there would be more credit card and banking breaches. Worst case is that enough people’s information ends up aggregated in the wrong hands to put them at risk as a larger scale target.

Anonymous Coward says:

You spelled idiot wrong...

Feinstein and Burr have a lot of pull and are in the intelligence community’s inner circle.

needs to be

Feinstein and Burr have a lot of pull and are in the intelligence community’s idiot circle.

It sounds like a joke but its not. Our fucking lives are being altered by these fucking idiots!

YoYoMom says:

Wait till the big must pass budget deal

I remember last year when the security bill that would give companies immunity for sharing data with the govt was dead as well – then after the last minute budget deal we find out its inside and that its much worse than its initial form (no privacy protections for citizen data needed and direct sharing with the NSA now added).

After we get through the next massive budget bill and its not included, I’ll breath a sigh of relief, but otherwise this is just a smokescreen to get everyone to let their guard down for budget bill inclusion. Here we are 3 years after Snowden and we’re still loosing ground.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Politician e-mail leaks are a non-sequiter here. Their e-mails are already stored unencrypted in most cases. (At-rest e-mail encryption is not well deployed even among the technically adept. I think it is safe to say it is unheard of among the political elite.) Any e-mail not stored with at-rest encryption is vulnerable in four places:

1. On the sending machine, in the Sent folder
2. In transit between an e-mail client and server or between servers, if you can catch it in transit and it is either unencrypted or the TLS connection uses a breakable cipher
3. On the recipient’s mail server (or, in some cases, at rest on an intermediate server that has not yet finished delivery)
4. On the recipient’s machine, in the Inbox or similar folder

Attacking (1), (3) or (4) is much easier than attacking (2), since you can only do (2) if you happen to be able to sniff traffic between the machines when those machines choose to communicate and they use a transport that is either cleartext or easily breakable. This bill, if passed, would make sniffed traffic from (2) easier to break. It would also likely make at-rest e-mail encryption more vulnerable, but since most people do not use that even now, making it more vulnerable does not make politician’s e-mail more vulnerable. Attacking 1/3/4 is about cracking into the machine (password guessing, bruteforce, or general malware) and then copying out the helpfully cleartext e-mail from the system’s drive. None of that becomes easier when breakable encryption is standard.

Anonymous Coward says:

Feinstein is a good friend of Clinton. You can bet Clinton will be helping her to pass this. If Congress has Republican majority and/or Republican president, I don’t think it would pass.

(yes, I know Richard Burr is a Republican, but it’s really the Democrat Feinstein pushing for stuff like this, as usual).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Democrat vs Republican

While I would like to believe your idea that at least one of the major parties has enough members who see reason here, I doubt it is true. Cluelessness with regard to technical issues is a bipartisan problem. There are a select few in each party who are well-informed about the issues, but most are not.

JBDragon (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Most of the so called Republican’s are just RINO’s!!! They just lean slightly less left then the Democrats. John Kennedy would never have been President if he was running for office these days. They’d call him a crazy right wing Republican.

This country has moved so far left, we can have someone a outright Socialist have almost a chance to be the Democrat pick with Bernie Sanders. With all the free stuff he wants to give out, those that have to pay taxes, the mostly the middle class will end up seeing a 80% tax rate.

You have all these left wing Collages dumping out kids that actually want to donate money to Terrorists groups to kill people in Israel. Couldn’t be any more clear to these kids!!! it’s really sickening what’s happening in the schools these days.


Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Ermmmm…. wrong. So much wrong.

Left-wingers are all about public ownership and state control of the means of production whereas right-wingers are all about laissez-faire and milking the public (especially workers) like cows.

This country has moved so far left, we can have someone a outright Socialist have almost a chance to be the Democrat pick with Bernie Sanders.

That’s what happens when people realise that their country is being run in the interests of corporations who have no loyalty towards and pay little in the way of tax, i.e. it’s the result of right wing policy. People generally prefer to have their country run in their own interests. You can only ask them to “take one for the team” so often. Sooner or later they begin to ask what’s in it for them if they do.

With all the free stuff he wants to give out, those that have to pay taxes, the mostly the middle class will end up seeing a 80% tax rate.

Taxes are already so low on the people who actually have all the money that there’s not enough to run the country with, hence the national debt. That the tax burden falls on middle income earners is due to the fact that we can’t afford to stash our cash in offshore accounts like the very rich can. Assume Bernie does get in: he’s unlikely to be able to fully implement his agenda as there’s only so much you can achieve via executive order. Presidents can’t rule by decree, whatever the hysterical conspiracy theorists would have us believe.

You have all these left wing Collages dumping out kids that actually want to donate money to Terrorists groups to kill people in Israel. Couldn’t be any more clear to these kids!!! it’s really sickening what’s happening in the schools these days.

Citation? I prefer to complain about the cult of political protectionism that is making its mark on universities, creating “safe spaces” and “free speech zones” on the grounds that someone might be offended by something. In a world where opinion is treated as fact, whatever did we think was going to happen — increased common sense?!

Your post is a case in point: low in facts and high in histrionics. The fact is, as everyone who actually knows about politics can tell you, political discourse in Western nations has lurched sharply to the right. If you can’t accept that, check out the prison population and tell me what sort of a person you’re most likely to find in there. Rule of thumb: where policy is centred on gaining and maintaining power for the wealthiest few, it’s a right wing system.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually, if you look at it in a historical context, the entire US political establishment – including the Democrats – is significantly to the right of what was historically called the center. Bernie Sanders is the closest thing to a genuine leftist the US national political scene has seen in decades, at least.

(Source: the graphs from The Political Compass, https://politicalcompass.org/. On their charts, both the Democrats and the Republicans are in the right/authoritarian quadrant, although the Republicans are considerably farther in that direction – and, for comparison, every single person I’ve yet persuaded to take the see-where-you-fall quiz has been in the left/libertarian quadrant. Along with such historical figures as Gandhi.)

Anonymous Coward says:

wonder if it has anything to do with Feinstein publicly saying she will support hillary and have all charges against her dropped for the exposing national secrets despite calling for snowden to have the book thrown at him for doing the same thing.

Feinstein has shown her true colours and few wish to support such a woman it seems.

JD says:

So defeatist

I can’t believe that smart people like Burr and Feinstein are just going to let this drop.

Hey Senators: if this was really a priority to you then you’d get it passed in the 114th Congress. I don’t want to hear excuses like, “the fundamental tenants of math say that more people would vote against it than for it.”

Senate harder.

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