Capitol Hill push for encryption back doors looks dead in the water

The legislation that would make tech companies crack their own encryption has lost support, according to a report citing congressional sources.

David Priest Former editor
David Priest is an award-winning writer and editor who formerly covered home security for CNET.
David Priest
2 min read
© Robert Schlesinger/dpa/Corbis

The push for back doors into encrypted communications -- highlighted by a showdown between Apple and the feds earlier this year -- seems to be stalling out, according to a Reuters report.

The Justice Department in February ordered Apple to unlock an iPhone 5C connected to December's terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California. That order was essentially compelling Apple to create a back door into encrypted communications on the iPhone to help law enforcement prosecute its case against the shooter, Syed Farook.

Apple refused to comply with the order, and the issue spun into a much larger debate, with technology companies arguing that strong encryption -- which scrambles data so it can be read only by the intended recipient -- is needed to protect privacy. Law enforcement argued that it can't fight crime unless it has access to information on mobile devices. The latter position motivated two senators to file a bill that would require tech companies to give criminal investigators access to encrypted devices and communications.

The Justice Department and FBI let Apple off the hook after a third-party company hired by the bureau found a way to access data on Farook's iPhone. And with that, the proposed encryption law lost its traction, Reuters said, citing unnamed congressional sources.

The biggest problem with the movement was reportedly the lack of support from the White House, despite lobbying from the Justice Department. Sources told Reuters the bill likely wouldn't be introduced this year, and "even if it were, would stand no chance of advancing."

Representatives for Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Richard Burr, who released the encryption bill, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.