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Politics

Congress introduces bill to block government encryption backdoors

The Secure Data Act would stop the government from forcing companies to create workarounds for law enforcement.

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Ian Knighton/CNET

A handful of Congress members want to bust the myth of "responsible encryption."

Lawmakers in the US House of Representatives introduced on Thursday the Secure Data Act, which would prohibit law enforcement and surveillance agencies from forcing companies to create encryption backdoors. The most public example of this request came from the FBI, when the agency demanded that Apple create software that would let it unlock an iPhone belonging to a terrorist in the 2015 shooting massacre in San Bernardino, California

For years, law enforcement agencies have suggested that companies like Apple and Signal can create "responsible encryption," which is a polished term for encryption backdoors. The concept is that tech companies would secure their products with encryption, but still allow in government agencies that need access in criminal investigations. 

This is not a concept exclusive to the US. Officials in Australia and the UK have also called for companies to create backdoors. They've made the argument that criminals and terrorists are using encrypted messages for coordination and that law enforcement can't stop them without a backdoor.

But security experts have argued that these measures would make everyone less secure in the long run. The proposed legislation sides with that argument. Governments, just like companies, are vulnerable to breaches and cyberattacks. For example, the National Security Agency lost its hacking tools that lead to the WannaCry ransomware attacks last year.

If governments have encryption backdoors, security experts believe they'll be stolen.

"Backdoors in otherwise secure products make Americans' data less safe, and they compromise the desirability of American goods overseas," US Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican from Kentucky, said in a statement.

You can read the full legislation here (PDF). 

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