Friday, 11 May 2018 07:43

US pollies again push bill to ban encryption backdoors Featured

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Politicians are again pushing against the creation of backdoors in encryption. Politicians are again pushing against the creation of backdoors in encryption. Pixabay

US politicians from both sides of the divide have reintroduced a bill into Congress that would prevent any government bid to mandate that backdoors be built into commercial software and hardware.

The bill, titled the Secure Data Act, was originally introduced into Congress in 2014 by Democrat Zoe Lofgren of California, according to a report in Cyberscoop on Thursday US time.

Its provisions are stark: unless there is a mandate under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, "no court may issue an order to compel a manufacturer, developer, or seller of covered products to design or alter the security functions in its product or service to allow the surveillance of any user of such product or service, or to allow the physical search of such product, by an agency".

The politicians' move comes in the wake of some in their ranks questioning recent claims by the FBI that it could not gain access to 7800 mobile devices last year.

Their doubts were expressed in a letter to FBI director Christopher Wray about the agency's actions in the 2016 stoush with Apple, over gaining access to an iPhone 5C belonging to a terrorist who had killed Americans in San Bernardino, California, in December 2015.

In a statement, Lofgren was quoted as saying: "It is troubling that law enforcement agencies appear to be more interested in compelling US companies to weaken their product security than using already available technological solutions to gain access to encrypted devices and services."

A co-sponsor of the bill, Republican Thomas Massie of Kentucky, said: "Backdoors in otherwise secure products make Americans’ data less safe, and they compromise the desirability of American goods overseas."

Cyberscoop said other sponsors of the bill were Ted Lieu of California and Jerrold Nadler of New York (both Democrats), and Matt Gaetz of Florida and Ted Poe of Texas (both Republicans).

Last week, a coalition of big technology firms, for a second time in recent months, called for strong encryption not to be tampered with, and criticised efforts by law enforcement agencies to create backdoors.

Their call came after former Microsoft employee Ray Ozzie added fuel to the fire over the encryption debate, claiming that he had found a way for governments to bypass encryption without having to resort to a backdoor.

But his claims were panned by cryptographers and researchers alike, with one, Matthew Green, a cryptographer and professor at Johns Hopkins University, pointing out that Ozzie's scheme was "effectively a key escrow system for encrypted phones".

The debate over encryption and the provision of backdoors for law enforcement to gain entry has also been going on in other countries, with Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton stating in a speech in February that companies that provide encryption for communications would be forced to devise a means of giving government agencies access to encrypted messages.

And last year, former British Home Secretary Amber Rudd went on the record saying that "real people" do not need end-to-end encryption.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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