- The Washington Times - Monday, February 8, 2016

President Obama and Silicon Valley are both responsible for putting the nation’s security at risk by not doing enough to keep strong encryption away from terrorists, Sen. John McCain argued in a recently published op-ed.

With tech sector stakeholders and Obama administration officials still failing to see eye-to-eye with respect to resolving intelligence gathering problems brought on my widespread and hard-to-crack encryption, Mr. McCainwrote Friday for Bloomberg News that lawmakers needs to find a way to keep bad actors, specifically the Islamic State terror group, from communicating under the radar of authorities.

“By taking advantage of widely available encryption technologies, terrorists and common criminals alike can carry out their agendas in cyber safe havens beyond the reach of our intelligence agency tools and law enforcement capabilities. This is unacceptable. Americans of course need access to technology that keeps our personal and business communications private, but this must be balanced with concerns over national security,” the Arizona Republican wrote.

Top Justice Department officials have said that end-to-end encryption enabled by default on commercial available smartphones and easy-to-install apps have made it increasingly difficult for investigators to access digital evidence. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office said last year that that dozens of search warrants couldn’t be fulfilled across New York City because encryption had made sought-after contents impossible to render.

Despite months of debate, however, Mr. McCain said Silicon Valley executives have refused to budge on the federal government’s requests, alleging that the tech sector’s pro-privacy stance and subsequent reluctance to revamp communication platforms so that investigators can access otherwise-protected conversations is “ideologically motivated and profit-driven, though not without merit.”

“But, by speaking in absolute terms about privacy rights, they bring the discussion to a halt, while the security threat evolves,” he wrote.

The Obama administration is also guilty of allowing security concerns to mount, Mr. McCain said.

“The president needs to define a coherent strategy to address the increasing use of encrypted communications by those who wish America and its allies ill,” wrote the Armed Services Committee chairman, calling on Mr. Obama to deliver more than “the same half-measures that have defined this administration’s military fight against Islamic State.”

Congress has been reportedly weighing proposals regarding encryption in recent months, and Mr. McCain said last year that hearings and legislation are each on the way.

Nevertheless, two of the top members of the House Intelligence Committee said that a legislative attempt to regulate encryption standards has lost momentum, even after terror attacks last year in Paris and San Bernardino, California, reignited calls for congressional intervention.

“I don’t think we’re any closer to a consensus on that than we were, I think, six months ago,” Rep. Adam Schiff, California Democrat, said at an event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor last week. “Or if there is a consensus, it is that a legislative solution, I think, is very unlikely.”

Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said that concerns over encryption haven’t subsided just yet.

“There’s not a week that goes by that we don’t meet with some foreign country, an ally, that comes in with concerns about the encryption issues as it becomes harder and harder for law enforcement to do investigations,” the California Republican told The Hill.

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