- The Washington Times - Friday, July 31, 2020

Encryption legislation being considered in the Senate spawned a companion bill proposed Thursday by Rep. Ann Wagner, Missouri Republican, quickly backed by the nation’s top federal law enforcement official.

Attorney General William P. Barr applauded Ms. Wagner for offering the House bill, the Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act, and said he believed it is needed to keep criminals from evading authorities.

The proposal has previously received firm pushback from cybersecurity experts and Silicon Valley, however, who argue it would effectively require companies to build so-called “back doors” into their products.

Proponents of the proposal reason that encryption allows criminals to operate undetected online by making it difficult to impossible for authorities to intercept and decipher their digital communications.

“Bad actors, especially child predators and human traffickers, have taken full advantage of warrant-proof encryption and other technological advances to hide their criminal activities from law enforcement at the expense of innocent victims,” Ms. Wagner said.

“My legislation would require tech companies to help law enforcement access requested data in response to a lawful warrant, incentivize innovation to build environments where lawful access and maximum privacy can coexist and train law enforcement on how to access digital evidence,” she said in a statement.

A number of popular online platforms use end-to-end encryption to secure user data, which by design makes it so that messages exchanged among users can only be deciphered by the intended sender or recipient.

Ms. Wagner, Mr. Barr and other critics of this technology have accordingly referred to it as “warrant-proof” because even a court order can keep authorities from decrypting and deciphering criminal evidence.

But computer scientists and companies that use end-to-end encryption have warned that redesigning those systems to give “backdoor” access to authorities would seriously compromise user privacy and security.

“End-to-end encryption is a necessity in modern life — it protects billions of messages sent every day on many apps and services, especially in times like these when we can’t be together,” Facebook said in the statement last month. “Rolling back this vital protection will make us all less safe, not more. We are committed to continuing to work with law enforcement and fighting abuse while preserving the ability for all Americans to communicate privately and securely.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina first proposed the bill across Capitol Hill last month with the backing of fellow Republicans including Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.

Mr. Barr, the head of the Department of Justice, was quick to commend the proposal in statements issued shortly after the bill was introduced last month in the Senate and again this week in the House.

“Although strong encryption is vital, we cannot allow the tech industry to use encryption that blinds law enforcement and prevents it from thwarting or investigating serious crimes and national security threats, including terrorist plots, cyberattacks and sexual exploitation” Mr. Barr said Thursday.

“Survivors of child sexual abuse and their families have pleaded with technology companies to do more to prevent predators from exploiting their platforms to harm children,” the attorney general added. “Unfortunately, these companies have not done enough, which is why this legislation is needed.”

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