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.