The Congressional Encryption Working Group Hands Apple a Victory in their Year-End Report Just Published
The Apple team led by CEO Tim Cook may have reason to crack a bottle of champagne before New Years, perhaps a few dozen cases for that matter. On Tuesday, a bipartisan congressional panel published a year-end report, advising the U.S. to explore other solutions to the encryption debate. According to the new congressional report, the U.S. is better off supporting strong encryption than trying to weaken it. The report specifically noted that "Any measure that weakens encryption works against the national interest."
There's no doubt that Apple pushed this issue to a head. The report begins this way:
"On February 16, 2016, a federal magistrate judge in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California issued an order requiring Apple, Inc. to assist the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in obtaining encrypted data off of an iPhone related to a 2015 shooting in San Bernardino, California. Apple resisted the order. This particular case was resolved when the FBI pursued a different method to access the data stored on the device. But the case, and the heated rhetoric exchanged by parties on all sides, reignited a decades-old debate about government access to encrypted data."
Tuesday's report essentially sides with Apple and its stance that strong encryption is vital for security. But the report also acknowledged that the technology has become an obstacle for law enforcement agencies when investigating crimes.
However, forcing U.S. companies to compromise their encryption wouldn't necessarily solve the problem. Consumers and bad actors, for instance, would likely choose to use more secure products offered by foreign companies, the report said.
The full 13 page report is available for your review which gives the impression that this is really the beginning of the debate and not the end. The report provides us with the committee's next steps.
Based on these observations, the members of the EWG listed above have identified the following areas for future discussion by the Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Committee on the Judiciary. These suggestions are not exhaustive, and are intended provide starting points for the Committees' work in this space in the next Congress, without precluding or undermining consideration of related issues as they emerge or evolve.
Law Enforcement Requests for Information
Congress should explore means of providing assistance to law enforcement agencies with respect to navigating the process of accessing information from private companies. A few relatively uncontroversial ideas could radically improve the ability of the law enforcement community to operate in a digital environment—and also reduce tensions between law enforcement and private industry. These ideas include, but are not limited to:
Exploring tools that might help companies clarify what information is already available to law enforcement officers, and under what circumstances.
Examining federal warrant procedures to determine whether they can be made more efficient, consistent with current constitutional standards.
Examining federal warrant procedures to ensure that they are clear and consistent with respect to law enforcement access to digital information.
Examining how law enforcement can better utilize existing investigative tools.
Authorizing and modernizing the National Domestic Communications Assistance Center (NDCAC). The NDCAC, organized under the Department of Justice, is a hub for technical knowledge management designed to facilitate information sharing among law enforcement agencies and the communications industry. NDCAC does not have an investigative role and is not responsible for execution of electronic surveillance court orders. Congress has never formally authorized the NDCAC, but its current structure seems conducive to providing the law enforcement community a forum through which to share information and benefit from existing technical expertise.
In conclusion, the report notes that "The debate about government access to encrypted data is not new—but circumstances have changed, and so too must our approach.
Encryption is inexorably tied to our national interests. It is a safeguard for our personal secrets and economic prosperity. It helps to prevent crime and protect national security. The widespread use of encryption technologies also complicates the missions of the law enforcement and intelligence communities. As described in this report, those complications cannot be ignored. This is the reality of modern society. We must strive to find common ground in our collective responsibility: to prevent crime, protect national security, and provide the best possible conditions for peace and prosperity.
That is why this can no longer be an isolated or binary debate. There is no "us versus them," or "pro-encryption versus law enforcement." This conversation implicates everyone and everything that depends on connected technologies—including our law enforcement and intelligence communities. This is a complex challenge that will take time, patience, and cooperation to resolve. The potential consequences of inaction—or overreaction—are too important to allow historical or ideological perspectives to stand in the way of progress."
Lobbying groups from the tech sector welcomed Tuesday's report. The Computer and Communications Industry Association said weakening encryption would be 'shortsighted.'
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